Dig Diary – Monday, July 22, 2019

Day Sixteen

Trench T, with Structure Twenty-Seven in the foreground. (Jo Bourne)

‘An absolute sea of orthostats’

The ‘new’ orthostat butting up against the massive stone orthostat placed against the inner face of Structure Twenty-Seven in Trench T – a division in a side recess? (Sigurd Towrie)

We had the first of our Ness Open Days yesterday and the site and the Stenness Community Centre were inundated with visitors.

It was great fun but a little tiring, as can be seen this morning from the general air of lassitude which hangs over the site.

Matters weren’t helped by the rain, which started to drizzle down most of the morning in defiance of all the weather forecasts.

The decorated orthostat in Structure Twenty-Seven (at the rear of the photo) was centre of attention today when the creation of 3D model began. (Jo Bourne)

This made working in some areas difficult and due to the likelihood of damaging the floors through walking on them when wet, site director Nick paused work in some of the structures.

By lunchtime everything was back to normal.

In Trench T, Jim Bright had the task of making a 3D model of the decorated orthostat and also recording and modelling the trench sections before they started to be partially removed in order to join up the new extensions with the main trench.

The results of his work should make the final recording of the section considerably easier and quicker. The images he will produce will be annotated and the fine stratigraphy outlined much in keeping with the more traditional section drawings.

The finds deposit between Structure Twelve and Twenty-Six cleaned and ready for recording. (Sigurd Towrie)

Also in Trench T, Emily finished cleaning away the midden near the decorated orthostat and uncovered another orthostat, parallel to the first and extending out into the interior of the structure.

At the moment Nick suggests that this could be a division in a side recess, which is a feature seen in recesses in other structures.

However, the discovery lends credence to the thought that Structure Twenty-Seven may have been an absolute sea of orthostats. On the other hand, the building might just turn out to be big enough to accommodate them all without looking excessive at all.

Recording complete, the major operation to recover the find between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six got under way and included bone…(Sigurd Towrie)

The two side extensions to Trench T are also progressing well and encountering dumps of rubble which might be related to the Iron Age activities in the area which we have already noted.

Hopefully they will not find any more of the Neolithic pits which were a feature of the last two excavation seasons and which slowed up progress due to their complexity.

In the north-west corner of Structure Twelve, Jim Rylatt and his team are removing dumps of material and have discovered that this is more extensive than first thought.

This brings a smile to Jim’s face because it means that there will be an even smaller area which will need to be painstakingly gridded and sampled.

It was nice to see the return of one of the old lags, also in Structure Twelve. Actually, Jan has never been away as she now lives in Orkney and works with Roy on the pottery in the Archaeology Institute lab. She reminded us that she hasn’t actually dug for a couple of years, which perhaps accounts for her rather slow and possibly painful progress around the site!

…teeth…(Sigurd Towrie)

In the putative passageway on the east side of Structure Twelve,  Claire and Sigurd are removing more of the bone and pottery spread discovered there. It looks as if the bones come from large cattle and we may need the involvement of our animal bone expert, Dr Ingrid Mainland.

In Structure Eight, Alice and Jo’s team are removing the floor deposits at the north end and, not far away, Chris has discovered a large thin piece of flint.

A strange worked bone, probably the shaft of a polished pin, has also been uncovered, strange because it is very dark in colour and may have been treated with some substance or may just be the result of post depositional processes or an indication of the material it once came into contact with.

…and pottery. (Sigurd Towrie)

If we find out more we will tell you.

It is one of the few bone artifacts discovered at the Ness, as in general the soil is too acidic for their preservation. If only the soil was a little more alkaline we can only dream of the range and number of bone artifacts that no doubt once graced the Ness.

Lastly, and by no means least, in Structure Ten, Jo and her team have been taking out the last of the south-west buttress and examining the floors.

A couple of small features have appeared and one contains what might be the remains of a vole. Admittedly, this is not a novel discovery but there seems some controversy over what bit of the vole has been found. Once we find a vole expert (there must be some) we will tell you.

Until tomorrow…



A rarity for the Ness – worked bone. In this case, probably a pin. (Sigurd Towrie)

A magnified view of the head of the suspected bone pin. (Jo Bourne)

Chris with the incredibly fine flint found in Structure Eight. (Jo Bourne)

A side view of Chris’ thin flint sliver. (Jo Bourne)

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