Dig Diary – Thursday, July 11, 2019

Day Nine

Work to extend Trench T gets under ways at both sides this morning. (Sigurd Towrie)

Extensions, extensions…

After some careful mattocking to remove the topsoil, the first level of archaeology was reached in the northern extension to Trench T. (Sigurd Towrie)

Today started wet and miserable and there were serious doubts as to whether any excavation would be possible at all.

Thankfully the threatened thunderstorms etc. held off and the team spading out the lower topsoil from the extensions to Trench T made remarkable progress.

De-turfing began to one side of the long, narrow Trench X, which runs from around the end of Structure Twelve down towards the Loch of Stenness.

The reason for this effort is the linear post-holes which appeared previously and which may be indications of some sort of timber structure.

De-turfing, as anyone who has tried it knows, is heavy work.

The backbreaking work of de-turfing under way at the extension of Trench X. (Sigurd Towrie)
Emily and Ceridwen carefully stacking the turf removed from the Trench X extension. (Sigurd Towrie)

On some sites, run by martinets of the sergeant-major type, the resulting stripped turf has to be laid out exactly in the right order, ostensibly so that it can be re-laid post excavation.

Things are more relaxed at the Ness and the full creative power of archaeologists has been turned on to the problem.

The result, and we suspect that Sigurd has a hand in this, is the most magnificent turf sofa ever built.

Job’s done! (Sigurd Towrie)

Yes, it is maybe a little damp but as everyone is encased in waterproof clothing this matters little.

As ever in archaeology there are precursors and the super-sofa derives unashamedly from the magnificent three-cornered stone affair constructed a few years ago during tea-breaks by Jim and his team from Structure Twelve. As an extra adornment the stone seat sports a china ornament which can be variously interpreted but which looks most like a fat rabbit.

But back to the archaeology.

The tiny arrow point cradled in site director Nick’s hand. (Sigurd Towrie)

The most excitement today centres around two students from University College London who are digging in the area between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six.

Towards the end of the afternoon they have unearthed the tip of a broken arrowhead, bi-facially flaked and most intriguing.

Because of the break we cannot say for certain what sort of arrowhead is represented, but the discovery point is high up in the section, hinting at something potentially late.

We already have an example from the Ness of a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead, which is an artefact from the early Bronze Age. Could this be something similar?

The Early Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged arrowhead found in the outer passage of Structure Ten in July 2017.

We simply cannot say and can only suggest that they find the rest of the arrowhead. We’ll let you know what happens.

The work in that particular area between the two structures is begin to harden the feeling that there is a later annexe of some sort, and some of the stone already excavated from the rubble is decorated with faint incised geometric designs.

Site director Nick hopes that there may be more of the classic geometric Ness designs further down. Again, we will tell you what happens.

Claire working on the Structure Twenty-Six hearth fills. (Emily O’Farrell)

Further over in Structure Twenty-Six, Claire is continuing work on the hearth fills, hoping to get dating material which can be compared with the archaeomagnetic dates secured by Sam Harris and Cathy Batt of the University of Bradford last year.

So far, Structure Twenty-Six seems to be a real hotch-potch of walls that probably represents the remains of several earlier buildings incorporated into its build.

The presence of several fine peck-dressed slabs in its walls that probably originated from the original phase of Structure Ten confirm its late date and is probably contemporary with Structure Twenty-Two (built over the north end of Structure Fourteen) to which it bears a slight resemblance.

Over in Trench J, Paul and his team have been investigating the deposits in Structure Thirty-Two, but it now looks likely that Structure Thirty-Two is actually a later remodelling of Structure Five. This would correspond to the nearby Structure One, where a late curving wall was inserted across that structure.

The curving wall in Structure Thirty-Two seems to be the result of later remodelling of Structure Five. (Emily O’Farrell)
Roy leading the 1pm tour of the site this afternoon. (Jo Bourne)

A short distance away the wall line of Structure Five is now shown to turn at the edge of the trench. If only the trench edge at that point was a little wider, the overall length of Structure Five might be be confirmed more securely.

The tempo of work is now picking up nicely and the weather is also improving, particularly throughout next week.

We continue to welcome visitors and are keen to show them this remarkable site. Everyone is welcome at the Ness, whether for our free tours or simply to have a wander around.

We look forward to meeting you.