Dig Diary – Thursday, August 8, 2019

Day Twenty-Nine

All hands on deck in Trench T this afternoon. (Jo Bourne)

More ‘cupmarks’ and a momentous occasion

Crated-up and ready to go. Small Find 40,000: Another decorated stone from the ‘corner of loveliness’. (Sigurd Towrie)

We reached a momentous landmark today!

As we near the end of our 12th year of major excavation, our 40,000th small find was recorded today after the discovery of yet another decorated stone from the exterior of Structure Twelve’s eastern entrance.

There, the so-called ‘corner of loveliness’ continues to live up to its name.

The day began with Sigurd and Claire both taking bets on whether a stone block – adjacent to an apparently deliberate deposit of animal remains – would yield yet more Neolithic ‘art’.

The bets were on more cupmarks.

The latest decorated stone in situ – with the pecked cupmarks on the face resting on the paving. (Sigurd Towrie)

And sure enough, when the stone was turned over to be removed, lo and behold four cupmarked were revealed.

We say cupmarks, it might be more correct to refer to it as peck-dressing as the face of the stone has been repeatedly struck to create a series of circular, “starburst” markings.

This discovery had added significance as it was allocated the Small Finds number 40,000. These are the number of small finds from the site and reinforced the sheer volume of material we are dealing with on site.

Even 40,000 is probably nowhere near a true reflection of what has been found on site when you include every individual piece of pottery or animal bone.

A closer view of the ‘cupmarked’ face of the stone. (Sigurd Towrie)

Take that into account and we’re probably well in excess of 500,000. We know, for example, that we have over 100,000 sherds of pottery.

The removal of the decorated stone also confirmed that the paving outside Structure Twelve continues out around the possible standing stone that appears to mark the building’s eastern entrance.

We’re now sure that as more rubble and blocking is removed, the paving will continue. Is it heading towards Structure Thirty? Or perhaps another building underlying Structure Twenty-Six? We shall have to wait and see.

As if one revelation wasn’t enough for one day, work around the drain hole that appeared last month has seen the removal of some of the overlying midden deposits.

Drain discussion around the hole (with Alice reaching down into the underworld) leading to the huge 30-metre drain under Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie

These layers of midden seemed to be relating to dumping within Structure Twenty-Four – the building preceding, and partially underneath, the northern annex of Structure Twelve.

While this has revealed more of the drain, what the drain related to has been causing headaches for site director Nick. Judging by its levels, which structures and which phase of the site it belonged to was something of a mystery.

Elias outside Structure One while his 3D laser scanner records the interior of the building. (Sigurd Towrie)

From the work carried out today, it seems the drain may have several different layers of capstones, each separated by quite a depth.

So are we looking at a whole sequence of this drain being recapped and its height raised as more structures were built in and around it? This may partially explain many of the problems we had trying to connect these structures into an overall phasing of the site.

However this may still all change if we can reveal more of the drain, as at present we are still trying to explain all this though a relatively small “window” into the drain, by feel, and adopting some strange positions that a yoga master would be proud of as we attempt to gain a better angle of vision into the hole!

Orkney.com’s Fionn McArthur inside Structure Twelve this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Structure One, which has lain dormant this season, was uncovered today to allow Elias and Emily to carry out laser-scanning of the building. The results will, we’re sure, complement existing and future photogrammetry and photomosaic work.

With the covers off, Professor Scott Pike took the opportunity to launch the drone over Structure One for aerial photographs before relocating to Trench T for more of the same.

Next week, the plan is to carry out a massive clean-up of the entire Trench P and get some new aerial shots of all the structures. This hasn’t been done for a couple of years – and definitely not with all the protective floor covers removed. The results, we hope, will be absolutely breathtaking, so watch this space.

Andy, Allison and Sarah expose a large spread of pot close to the entrance of Structure Eight. (Jo Bourne)

Talking of photography, today we welcomed back Fionn McArthur of Orkney.com who was completing some further filming and interviewing some of the students. No doubt this will appear online shortly.

Over in Trench T, work in the two extensions has seen the removal of the last of the pits and middens and the robbing debris seems to be following the exact lines we had anticipated. Which is always a huge relief!

Ongoing excavation in the Trench T south-eastern extension. (Jo Bourne)

As yet no original, in-situ, stonework has been revealed but we’ve got high expectations that, under the demolition debris in the extensions, some of the lower wall lines survive.

In Trench J, floor sampling in Structure Five is now well under way and, as people get used to the intricacies and paperwork involved, we’re sure this will move on at great speed.

In Structure Five, just inside the southern-eastern blocked entrance, there seems to be an internal curving wall. What this is associated with has yet to be ascertained.

Like all the other structures at the Ness, the complexities of all these builds, rebuilds and alterations continue to complicate the story of the site and will require further unpicking and clarification in post-excavation.