Dig Diary – “Surely the most beautiful Neolithic stone wall anywhere!”
Thursday, August 4, 2022
“That must surely be the most immaculately constructed and beautiful Neolithic stone wall anywhere!”
The words of site director Nick Card while viewing the newly exposed north-western wall of Structure Twenty-Seven this afternoon.
The Ness is no stranger to superlatives. But they were positively flying around Trench T today, with all of the dig team supporting Nick’s assertion.
“Wow!” was the initial response of everyone who witnessed the quality of the Neolithic masons’ efforts.
The stonework is, quite simply, exquisite. The finest masonry uncovered on site to date, the wall is formed by regular courses of perfectly fitted stone, the precision of their placement unsurpassed. On top of that, the Neolithic builders also incorporated a deliberate, but very subtle, curve into the length of the wall.
As one viewer put it today: “That wouldn’t look out of place on a Roman site…”
The fact we can view the wall face – which survived the robbing of stone from Twenty-Seven almost intact – is thanks to the Willamette University diggers, who have done a fantastic job revealing it.
Some were due to go into the finds hut today, but were all anxious to stay and finish the job of excavating the wall. Their efforts were aided by the fact the wall lay beneath the rubble debris left after the stone-robbing episodes that followed Twenty-Seven’s abandonment.
Fortunately, this debris is relatively easy to shift, which helped speed the excavation process along.
But the good news doesn’t end there. Judging by the floor level of the building’s interior, our stunning north-western wall could survive to up to one metre in height!
The quality of the north-western wall is matched by some of the features being unearthed at Twenty-Seven’s south-eastern side.
Here more massive stone slabs have been revealed – some of which are over two metres long – upon which the building’s wall once stood. As excavation progresses, we are expecting exactly the same on the north-western side.
Today’s minute pot is possibly the smallest found on site so far and came from an ashy dump between Structures Eight and Nineteen.
Over the wall, in Structure Eight, the decorated stone in the southern half was lifted today. We suspect it was once a small orthostat within the building, which had been pushed over at some point in its life. As the photographs showed yesterday, the stone features classic Neolithic decoration at one end.
Elsewhere in Eight, Ray found a fragmented spatulate stone tool, adding to the number already found in the building.
Another of the secondary phase orthostats across the middle of Structure One was removed late in the afternoon. The task of shifting the stone leaves only the (once) central orthostat still in position.
This stone was inserted into one of Structure One’s hearths during the building’s remodelling and this, not to mention its size, has delayed its removal.
Not only do we not want to disturb the hearth deposits, but have to consider whether it is safe to try and move it – it is large, laminating and partly cracked. We don’t want to risk the stone or the safety of any of anyone involved in removing it from the trench.
Trench J has been producing the finds this season and today proved no different.
As expected, the large post-hole found inside its original entrance yesterday was one of a pair.
The second, at the other side of the southern doorway, is the same size and matches the same construction sequence as its neighbour. Also like its neighbour, the post-hole had been covered over in prehistory but not before three stone tools were deposited inside.
It is perhaps not surprising that the entrance, and the imposing posts, were directly opposite an item of stone “furniture” in Structure Five – perhaps something akin to the “dressers” that can still be seen at Skara Brae.
Meanwhile, in Five’s northern extension, Andy and Aaron are excavating the secondary hearth with a view to removing it to allow access the hearth lying underneath.
Regular readers will recall that Trench J was extended this year to reveal more of the inner face of the “Great Wall of Brodgar“.
What this extension has revealed, apart from another set of “steps”, is that the northern boundary wall does not run parallel to the trench edge. This means that the inner face won’t be fully visible this year. And extension in 2023 perhaps?
We were delighted to welcome Carly Hiltz, from Current Archaeology, to the site today, so keep an eye out for a new Ness of Brodgar article in a future edition of the magazine.
And talking of publications, if you’ve been holding back on buying a copy of our interim monograph, The Ness of Brodgar: As it Stands, now is the time to act.
Launched in November 2020, and after a sold-out initial print run, we’re down to the last two copies from the second! An archaeological best-seller if ever there was one.
We do have plans for a paperback edition at some point, but that reprint remains some way away…
And on that note, we’ll sign off.