Dig Diary – Sunshine, hearths, haematite and post-holes
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
What a glorious day. Both in terms of weather and archaeology.
Weary diggers climbed from the trenches at the end of a warm, sunny day. Tired but with smiles on their faces.
While the rest of Britain bakes in record-breaking temperatures, the situation in Orkney was more tolerable with temperatures at the Ness reaching around 20 deg c around lunch time.
So with the sun smiling down on us, it has been a day of fine discoveries across the site.
In Structure One, Andy and Jenna were working immediately south of the building’s southern hearth where they have an area of beautifully laid, yellow-clay floor.
In it they revealed a series of small stake-holes, akin to those encountered around the two hearths of One’s eastern neighbour, Structure Twelve.
Twelve’s yellow-clay floor was pockmarked by hundreds of small stake-holes, the remnants of temporary wooden constructions – racks, tripods and spits for cooking – that had been constructed and dismantled on multiple occasions.
Will Structure One repeat the pattern? Time will tell.
Casting a glance at One’s immaculate floor, many across the site are quite envious of its clearly defined nature – compared, that is, to the morass of redefined, patched and generally quite mucked-about flooring they have to deal with in other structures.
A short distance away from the northernmost stokeholes Jenna also found a beautiful flake of pink flint.
Over in Trench J, the students working on the western extension have revealed two hearths dating from the later stages of activity on site. Sitting high above Structure Five, the hearths are akin to others found in the later levels of infill in the trench.
The hearth relates to Structure Five’s original rectangular form. Although it is aligned perfectly with the axis of the building, it is much larger than expected – an elongated rectangle rather than a square.
Hearths at the Ness have a history of producing some nice artefacts, so watch this space.
In Structure Ten, Kaehlin was exploring what is perhaps the most disturbed area of the building’s interior – a section related to the collapse of the south-western buttress.
Three buttresses were inserted into Ten during its second-phase rebuild and remodelling and, as Ness aficionados will know, were preceded by a series of foundation deposits that included a sea-eagle wing bone, human arm bone and a (very) large decorated stone.
The disturbance in the area of the south-western buttress however has us wondering whether there was a period of extended collapse in Ten’s south-western corner – one that required extensive filling and patching.
Close to Kaehlin, a discovery by Professor Mark Edmonds once again fits our entirely unscientific theory that specific finds migrate magically towards the relevant experts.
Mark found a lovely, large primary flake of black flint which must have come from a sizeable nodule.
If the flint core was being worked in Ten, we should expect to find more, so keep an eye out for further updates.
Elsewhere in Ten, this is Gregor and Julia’s final week on site, so they are concentrating on finishing off the features they’ve been working on.
Julia has a post-hole with a flat, stone base, which suggests the collapse of Structure Ten may not have been a sudden event but one which people knew was coming.
The posthole is presumably a later insertion, moved into position in attempt to bolster the structure’s collapsing roof.
Post-holes have also emerged in Structure Eight, but these are not on the same scale as the post inserted to hold up its northern roof section after the southern end collapsed.
Instead, given their size, it looks like these relate to interior features/furniture, such as the screens/dividers encountered in Structures One, Twelve and Fourteen and over in House Two at the nearby Barnhouse settlement.
The Willamette team, watched over and aided by Rick and Charlie, is continuing to remove the debris and midden, removing the building from the cocoon that has enveloped it for millennia.
By close of business today it was looking noticeably more well-defined.
During that process, Megan made two very nice finds while excavating the robber cut behind the eastern prone orthostat.
Her first discovery was a worked-stone pounder, which has been earmarked for further analysis by the international Chemarch project.
Because of this, it had to be excavated very carefully, along with a sample of the deposit it sat in. The recovered object is carefully wrapped in tin foil to prevent contamination.
The goal is to micro-analyse the surface of the tool to discover what they were used for and on what. The job of excavating the artefact was handled with aplomb and it is now safe and secure and awaiting post-excavation work.
For the chemical analysis to succeed we don’t clean the mud and detritus from the object – that task now falls to the specialist who will examine and analyse it.
Megan’s second find of the day was a lovely piece of haematite – the second largest found on site to date. The mineral, probably from the island of Hoy, which dominates the western horizon from the Ness, is highly polished on one side.
Regular readers will know that haematite was used at the Ness complex to create orange/red pigment.
Megan’s piece brings our haematite total to 20. Almost half of which came from Structure Ten, which contained a pigment production area in its secondary remodelled phase.
In the centre of Twenty-Seven, Charlie has been battling the rock hard deposits covering the interior.
While the forecast rain this evening might help soften them up, site director Nick has sanctioned the use of a mattock tomorrow, to expedite the excavation process.
So we’ll report back then on what emerges.