Dig Diary – Monday, August 8, 2016
Decorating the stones as the walls were built . . .
If any dear readers are fed up hearing about the weather, rest assured, we are fed up living with it. The wind howled and howled today, rushing down from the north-west with virulent intensity, flattening signs, torturing plastic sheeting and rubbing away at the resilience of the diggers.
In Structure Twelve, a number of tyres, that were holding down sheeting, mysteriously moved to the other side of the building, no doubt seeking shelter. Out at sea ferries, were cancelled and on the lochs the swans kept a very low profile.
The saving grace of the day was the archaeology which, undeterred by the climate, continued to live up to its promise.
In Trench T, expectation mingled with confusion as Ben and his team uncovered more huge slabs in front of the vestiges of the wall at the bottom of the trench. There is no doubt that they are covering a drain but it is the scale of things which is so intriguing.
Nick wonders if the drain runs under an entrance passage to a building but, if it does, the structure must be extraordinarily big.
The challenge is to know what to do next.
If the building is as large as suspected, the only way to get to grips with it is to open a very large trench in two directions, but that raises as many problems as it might solve. And if the building has been extensively robbed there may not be much to see.
Are there any other options?
There are at least two more weeks of digging in which to make matters clear, but further information may have to wait until next year.
It’s been obvious for some time that Ness diggers are an inventive bunch.
At the top of Trench X Charlotte and Holly found themselves exposed to the weather as they grappled with the task of sampling the excavated area there.
It has already produced two stone anvils and lots of flaked stone so the area has been gridded with 50cm squares and is being extensively sampled for analysis and for micro-debitage recovery.
However, the wind was making things difficult so they built a three-tier tyre wall on the windward side and settled down happily to their sampling.
De-turfing began in the morning over part of the area of Structure Twenty-Six. This lies between the south wall of Structure Ten and curves towards nearby Structure Twelve, but its exact route is unknown. How far towards Structure Twelve does it go and does it respect the magnificent eastern entrance to Twelve with its flanking standing stones?
Nick stresses that there is no intention to excavate Structure Twenty-Six but that the aim is to define the relationship between it and Structure Twelve. This will involve the removal of overburden of midden deposits and the weapons of choice will be trowels accompanied by some very gentle mattocking.
Everyone was delighted to see the hard-working Giles Carey back on site today. Giles did his M.A. at Orkney College and will now be helping Antonia remove the last vestiges of Structure Eleven.
Diggers and some observant visitors have always noticed the huge slab in the vicinity of Structure Eleven with a notch in the top edge. This can now be seen to be very deeply embedded and indeed is clearly part of the original wall of the structure.
In the structure, Antonia has also revealed another decorated stone, this time with faint “butterfly” motifs and confirming, once more, her theory that the decoration of stone was carried out as the walls were built rather than being a later addition.
One of our amateur weather forecasters suggests that the weather will not improve until next year. This is probably a little pessimistic but, accurate or not, we will be back tomorrow.
Until then . . .
From the Trenches
Hey everyone, this is Orla taking over the blog for the day.
I am a recent archaeology graduate from the University of Glasgow (please only address me as Orla Craig MA), where I will be returning after the summer to do my masters, and it’s my first time working at the Ness as well as my first time visiting Orkney.
After making the long journey from Glasgow last Monday, I have been treated to a variety of weathers (good and bad) with today ticking “Very Blustery Day” off the list.
Having worked on a couple of Neolithic sites in Scotland before (albeit a fair bit further south), what first struck me about the site was its scale and complexity.
It is immediately clear that we are working with something very special here. Being more used to excavating negative features, such as pits and post holes, it is amazing to see how much of these structures remains intact.
I spent last week working on the new and exciting Trench X, exposing paving stones and a possible drain which contains the exciting possibility of hiding further treasures. I closed out the week with my first find at the Ness, what appears to be the handle end of a broken stone spatula. As other pieces of broken spatulas have been found in the nearby area, I’m hoping to uncover the other half before the end of the season.
Amid the aforementioned very blustery day, and with concern for the very real possibility of our being wheeched off site for an unexpected, and chilly, swim, most of the Trench X team have been moved for the day. We have now become a crack deturfing team, as another small area of the trench is being exposed.
We are hoping that in opening up this section we will be able to get a better idea of the stratigraphic relationships between some of the structures, which will tell us things like which of the structures was built first, and what relationship they are likely to have had to one another.
Deturfing may not be glamorous work but it is the first step in creating a better understanding of the site as a whole.
Over my remaining three weeks here, I am looking forward to developing a greater understanding of the site, and, of course, to finding the other part of that spatula.