Dig Diary – Thursday, July 13, 2017

Day Nine

Jo and Sarah try to decide when a layer is a floor in Structure Ten.

Jo and Sarah try to decide when a layer is a floor in Structure Ten.

Surprising discoveries

This is our umpteenth day of very warm, sunny weather and the Ness diggers are turning various shades of carbon.

If it goes on much longer, they might even be dateable!

Of course, this does not mean there has been any slackening of pace on site. Indeed, if anything, work has intensified, and Trench T is the epitome of an enhanced work ethic.

Work in Trench T’s Iron Age ditch reveals a more complex story.

Supervisor Dave has taken several of the team up to near the top of the Neolithic midden mound, where they are investigating the later Iron Age ditch — cut into the mound — and the small, but unusual, features that accompany it (Iron Age in Scotland is c.800BC to c. AD800).

They have made some surprising discoveries.

It seems that the revetment wall, on the upslope side, was enhanced by a large bank, itself held at the rear by another revetment wall.

What does this mean?

If these structures ran right round the crest of the mound – with the ditch open and highly visible on the downslope and the bank above – the visual effect would have been striking in the extreme.

Indeed, because of the height of the midden mound it was built on, the structure would have been visible for miles around.

No doubt this was the intention of the Iron Age builders, as there are many other examples of their willingness to alter the landscape and any older structures which might be visible within it.

Nick still has hopes the ditch might be deep enough to reveal information from the Neolithic levels into which it was cut.

Meanwhile, over in Structure Ten, there is heated discussion on the topic of when is a floor is not a floor.

One of the large sherds of Grooved Ware pottery is teased from its midden bed.

Although devilishly difficult to untangle, trench supervisor Sarah has been describing the structure floor as, in certain areas, being composed of a single floor, overlain by occupation material which, although undoubtedly trampled, does not constitute a deliberate floor.

We apologise if Sarah’s micro-observations are being misrepresented here, but the whole discussion illustrates the complexity of untangling the composition of floors which lie under, or over, other material and which have also been subject to countless small and large improvements and repair over the life of the structure.

Meanwhile, dig dog Bryn continues to be the real centre of attraction.

Claire’s new trench extension, over Structure Twenty-Six, is, as expected, producing large pieces of pottery from within the midden matrix.

This is not unusual, but again illustrates the difficulty of analysis at the Ness – if pot is found in the midden (as most of it is), it will almost certainly have been curated and moved about before arriving at its final destination.

This makes it incredibly difficult to trace its life journey, or to say where it originated and when – both of which are basic aims of ceramic studies.

Meanwhile, Jim is completing his 3D model of the large vessel discovered in Claire’s extension. This is an exciting development in our task of understanding and representing Ness artefacts.

Visitors today included John Hannavy from Scotland Magazine (watch out for the Christmas edition) and a party from Far Horizons, an American travel group who have been long-term supporters of the Ness.

We will end here, as the task of peeling off Factor 100 sun cream is a lengthy and messy affair.

Please note that there will be no diggers on site tomorrow as we are working on Sunday with our special Open Day (open 11am till 4pm) – do come along and enjoy the fun. So guided tours on Friday will be limited to 11am and 3pm.

From the Trenches

Pottery abounds in the extension over Structure Twenty-Six.

My name is Kate Greene and I am a political science professor at the University of Southern Mississippi in the US.

I ended up in Orkney last summer, while on a trip to the UK, and just fell in love with it — especially with its Neolithic sites.

Standing in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney makes my heart feel full and connected to the whole world. While here last year, I told my tour guide I wanted to work at the Ness.

She laughed and said they had 1,000 volunteers a year. I guess I am having the last laugh as I am here for two weeks, working in finds with Anne.

Besides the beautiful weather, I am truly enjoying being part of this diverse team.

The people here are so friendly; do not like Donald Trump any more than I do; and are the hardest working, most curious folk I have ever encountered in one place.

I have not heard a single complaint from anyone (well, except Nick, when he complains about keeping the toilet clean, but I am with him on that) and I love being surrounded by the many students, young and old, who are sharing their knowledge with me, the non-archaeologist.

Supervisor Rick explains the complexities of context recording to a group of UHI students.

Working in finds certainly is not as dirty, and exciting, as being in the trenches, but the upside is that we get to see, and care for, both the exciting and mundane finds and have received wonderful mini-lectures from Anne when new and special finds come in.

She allows us freedom to go around the site and observe when new types of finds are uncovered and she answers our questions, while, at the same time, encouraging us to use our own judgment.

In just three days, I have learned to quickly distinguish between bone, burnt bone, pot, teeth (and the teeth we find are huge), tooth enamel, rock, cramp and just plain old dirt.

I have come to appreciate the importance of good record-keeping and the joys of sitting in the sun, brushing the dirt off burnt bone.

I also love that after I learned my job on day one, Anne just handed to me the teaching of my job to other students and volunteers. Her confidence in me is very appreciated.

Lastly, I just want to say that I am grateful for this unique opportunity and experience. I don’t always smile, but when I do, it is probably because I am at the Ness learning how to be an archaeologist!

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