Dig Diary – Monday, August 19, 2019

Day Thirty-Six

Last week syndrome…

site director Nick begins the delicate operation to remove the laminating decoration from the Structure Twelve orthostat. (Sigurd Towrie)

There is such a thing in Orcadian archaeology as “last week syndrome” when, as everything winds down towards the end of the excavation, something interesting turns up.

Today is the beginning of the last week and something interesting turned up.

The team in Trench T had previously noticed that one of the large orthostats standing at right angles to the internal wall face of Structure Twenty had unusual markings on its surface.

These comprise many incised lines, some forming chevrons and other geometric motifs, plus some probable “drag marks” relating to its quarrying and transportation.

An enhanced image of the Structure Twenty-Seven orthostat’s south-eastern edge showing the incised marks. Click the image for a larger version. (Sigurd Towrie)

Unfortunately, the surface of the stone on which the motifs had been incised was clearly laminating and separating from the stone underneath.

It was obvious that it would not last another Orkney winter even if reinforced with every bit of padding and support we could muster.

A complex operation was launched beginning with the detailed recording of the stone.

Then, with many hands involved, the laminating decorated sections were carefully eased off by site director Nick and placed gently into waiting trays.

During this operation it was also noted that the edge of the slab that would have been hidden within the wall of the structure was also decorated with fine incisions.

We have noticed this feature in other areas of the site, with really handsome decoration hidden away in the interior of walls.

Nick also noticed that one inner edge of the large stone had a rounded profile, suggesting strongly that it had been re-used from some other location, quite possibly a different building.

The surface removal operation continues. (Sigurd Towrie)

This has also been noticed on some other orthostats in the structure, both upstanding and prone.

Meanwhile, we were delighted to welcome our worked stone expert, Ann Clarke, on site for the first time this year, together with Caroline Wickham-Jones the Mesolithic and sea-level expert.

Ann has worked on Ness material for many years and will update her catalogue of material with the latest worked stone recovered this year. Click here for more details of her work to date.

A piece of suspected worked bone from the cell outside the entrance to Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

Outside Structure Twelve, the “corner of loveliness” continued to surprise, with Sigurd discovering a bone point within a deposit of animal bone. He also uncovered yet more paving and stonework.

Trench J has come on leaps and bounds this year with the excellent team led by Paul excavating down to a common level across Structure Five.

Travis with a mandible uncovered outside Structure Thirty-Two in Trench J. (Jo Bourne)

This means that the beginning of next year’s excavation will see us at the later phases of the occupation or activity level directly associated with the structure, rather than the later activity and dumping so far excavated.

This will be particularly interesting as Structure Five is one of the oldest buildings on site, predating all the “piered” architecture such as Structures One, Eight, Twelve and Fourteen.

Fingers crossed lots of comparative material will be recovered, including, we hope, pre-Grooved Ware ceramics.

Sadly, we have to point out that Wednesday will see the beginning of the mammoth task of covering the site up and tucking it in safely for the winter.

The last site tours will also take place on that day.

A beautifully decorated pottery sherd from Trench X. (Jo Bourne)

We have a most important appeal to make to any able-bodied men or women with time to spare on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday.

We are in need of help with the site covering. Anyone who is reasonably fit and who possesses stout boots and waterproof clothing will be welcomed with open arms if they can help at any time between 9am and 5pm on those days.

We look forward to seeing you then.