Dig Diary – Thursday, August 1, 2019

Day Twenty-Four

STOP PRESS – As seems to be typical this week, in the final minutes of work today, an axehead/macehead blank came up in the same area as this morning’s macehead. More details tomorrow.

The beautiful – but unfinished – cushion macehead found in Trench X this morning. (Sigurd Towrie)

A truly spectacular macehead from Trench X

A delighted Aqsa with the macehead from Trench X this morning. (Sigurd Towrie)

Just when we thought things couldn’t get more exciting on site.

We’ve had some lovely finds across the trenches so far this season, but today’s put these truly in the shade.

In fact, it was so spectacular that it could be up there in the top ten list of Ness artifacts.

What was it? An absolutely beautiful – but unfinished – macehead. Words really don’t do it justice. It is spectacular!

It was found by UHI student Aqsa, who is in her first week of excavation at the Ness.

Aqsa, along with fellow UHI students Gareth, Eile and Samira were removing midden in the Trench X extension, when out came a very fine example of a cushion macehead.

Fashioned from Olivine basalt, but curiously the hole typical of these artefacts, hasn’t been fully completed. A start was made at drilling the hole but seems to have been abandoned and the beautifully shaped object then used as a hammer stone.

The find of a lifetime! UHI students Gareth, Eile, Aqsa and Samira with the Trench X cushion macehead. (Sigurd Towrie)

This is a great pity as although this secondary use has not damaged it greatly, it has been created from beautiful stone which may have come from the island of Hoy (we still have to do a bit more geological investigation).

We’ve had other artefacts made from a similar material – but the crystals within the body of the macehead had had less time to grow resulting in an incredible spotted surface.

Aqsa was, needless to say, over the moon and her discovery caused great excitement across the site. It was also displayed, much to their delight, to the many visitors to site today.

While we could wax lyrically about the beauty of the macehead all night (indeed, we already have been all day) we’d better move on to some of the other activity on site…

Tonia and Natalie expose the hearth in Structure Seventeen (which lies beneath Structure Eight). (Jo Bourne)

In Structure Eight, the team have been busy re-exposing the whole of the building, in particular preparing the hearths for the imminent arrival of Dr Cathy Batt.

Cathy will take further samples from the hearths for archaeomagnetic analysis. Archaeomagnetic dating is a relatively new branch of scientific archaeology relating to the Neolithic which uses known alterations in the earth’s magnetic field over time, when compared with the fixed orientation in burnt samples, to estimate dates.

Pippa excavating the southern drain (mentioned yesterday) from Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

The work by Sam Harris in this field is looking very promising and aims to produce a calibration curve for archaeomagnetic samples from the Neolithic and this, in conjunction with radiocarbon dates, will hopefully provide indications of the length of use of each of the hearths – and hence date the buildings themselves.

Likewise, in Trench J, Paul and his team have been exposing hearths, getting them ready for Kathy to work her magic on.

In Trench T, the two extensions created to expose two more of the external corners of Structure Twenty-Seven have now had their upper layers planned and sampled.

They are now being removed and we hope that in the next few days we’ll be seeing more of the demolition rubble relating to Structure Twenty-Seven revealed.

The view inside a Neolithic drain – in this case Structure Twenty-Seven’s southern one. (Jo Bourne)

Like the rest of the site, Structure Twenty-Seven is just not playing the game!

The apparent simple history of the building is becoming more complex by the minute with more phases of construction, deconstruction, stone-robbing and activity within the remains of the building itself.

All of this is adding to a story that is considerably more complicated than we first thought.

Back in Trench P, Tristan has fully planned and photographed the last remnants of the midden filling the later robber pit (associated with the robbing of stone on either side of the entrance) from the southern “alcove” outside the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve.

He has now started removing the underlying midden through which the robber pit was cut, but, as ever, yet more badly preserved pot is slowing proceedings up.

However, more of a stone quern that forms the rear of the alcove is being revealed and keeps getting bigger and bigger – to the point that we are pondering whether, due to the apparent lack of quern-related wear in the interior, we might actually have something along the lines of a stone basin. Watch this space for more details.

Meanwhile, in the central midden area, around the huge drain, more work to remove the collapse and tumble continues. This overlies a morass of walls that seems to represent at least three separate structures, Twenty-Three, Thirty-Three and Thirty-Four.

But every bit of midden removed seems to be complicating the story and exposing more orthostats which don’t make any obvious overall coherent plan.

Structure Twenty-Eight in relation to the later Structure Twelve. (Jim Rylatt)

However, in Structure Twelve supervisor Jim has been working hard trying to unravel the earlier structures beneath. Rather than having two structures – Twenty-Four and Twenty-Eight – it now seems that we actually have just a single construction, Structure Twenty-Eight, which was even bigger and probably even grander than we thought and was probably the source of much of the final masonry reused in Structure Twelve.

It now seems it is aligned exactly north-south, like Structure One and, as long suspected, may also respect the “Central Standing Stone” in the paved area between Structures One, Eight and Twelve.

And now after that day of revelations and discoveries, it’s time for a lie down…

… but first we would encourage you all to please make a donation, no matter how large or small, so that we can continue with this groundbreaking research and make more discoveries about the amazing Ness of Brodgar – thank you!

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