Dig Diary – Thursday, July 25, 2019

Day Nineteen

The centre of attention today – Structure Twelve and its standing stone. (Jo Bourne)

A standing stone outside Structure Twelve?

Concentration in Trench J. Peter, Paul, Travis, Ray and Therese. (Kaehlin Terry)

The weather gods smiled upon us today.

A gorgeous day of sunshine and a gentle breeze (by Orcadian standards) to keep the midges and flies at bay, as well as send diggers scurrying across the site trying to retrieve lost headgear. All in all, sheer bliss.

The miniature stone axe recovered from the midden near a later hearth over Structure Five. (Ole Thoenies)

As ever, the weather emphasised the central location of the Ness, with sea haar rolling in to encircle us and enshroud the surrounding hills with impressive banks of fog on numerous occasions throughout the day, but nothing could spoil the mood and activities in the trenches.

Today was, quite simply, a day of fantastic finds and discoveries – including what may be yet another on-site standing stone outside Structure Twelve. More on that later.

A delighted Peter with the axe recovered this morning. (Sigurd Towrie)

The day’s discoveries began in Trench J, where the seemingly incessant task of removing midden above the north-western section of Structure Five continued apace.

Giving the team a morale-boosting talk before excavation began this morning, site director Nick said that there were ‘treasures’ to be found beneath this layer of seemingly endless, and complex, domestic refuse.

Thirty minutes later, Peter unearthed a beautiful miniature polished stone axe. Made from camptonite, it was almost immaculate, with the edge still as sharp as the day it was created. A truly beautiful find – and tiny!

Tristan, flanked by standing stones, excavating at the entrance of Structure Twelve. (Jo Bourne)

This was just the boost needed and, with renewed vigour, the removal of the midden continued, revealing more of the wall line of the south-eastern wall of Structure Five.

Instead of turning (as we’d expected they would) the wall continued in a straight line!

This means that the westward end of Structure Five undoubtedly lies outwith the extension added to Trench J last year, and increases its overall length to over 18 metres!

A quernstone has been found in the entrance to Structure Twelve, similar to this example from Structure Twenty-Six. (Sigurd Towrie)

In the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve (one of the building’s original access points) Tristan has been removing more of the fill of the large robber pit (dug to remove stones from around the doorway) and the later walling inserted to create an annexe around the entrance’s two flanking standing stones.

There he has started to revealed a very large quernstone that, according to our geologist, was created from rock that came from Houton, in the parish of Orphir – quite some distance away from the Ness.

The discovery of this beautiful object was quickly followed by more fragments of another quernstone.

As if that wasn’t enough, what may be a major revelation concerning the Structure Twelve entrance and the passage leading from it came to light this afternoon.

We originally thought the passage led between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six.

The suspected standing stone at the entrance of Structure Twelve (highlighted with a red box). (Sigurd Towrie)

It’s now clear that this is not the case.

Structure Twenty-Six post-dates the construction of the putative corridor, which was blocked before Structure Twenty-Six was built.

It now seems that what we have is an enhanced entrance to Structure Twelve, where two standing stones flank a doorway that leads to another substantial standing stone.

This megalith bifurcates the Structure Twelve entrance and its alignment, within a few degrees of east-west, seems to mirror the north-south standing stone in the “central paved area” between Structures One, Twelve and Eight.

The structures in Trench P cluster around a paved area containing this prominent decorated standing stone, which, at present, seems to form a central point to the whole enclosure.

Aligned north–south, the decorated monolith’s eastern face lines up with the central axis of a later building, Structure Ten, as well as the nearby chambered cairn Maeshowe and the equinox sunrise.

Given the precise alignment to Structure One’s entrance, and the way the surrounding buildings relate to, and respect, it, it seems likely that the stone predates their construction. If so, great care was taken during construction so as not to disturb it.

Although today’s possible second standing stone doesn’t clearly reference Structure Twelve, the feeling on site is that it relates more exactly to the alignment of Structure Twenty-Eight, which underlies (and is therefore earlier) the southern end of Structure Twelve.

As we say regularly, time will tell. Watch this space.

Trench X this afternoon. Spot the postholes. (Jo Bourne)

Over in Trench X, our search for a suspected timber building is yielding results.

The packing stones from the numerous postholes have now been removed and the holes themselves half-sectioned, investigated and recorded. Unfortunately none have so far produced the material we need to date the possible structure (charcoal, wood fragments, grain etc). We have now reached a stage where we can continue down to reveal the possible structures that lie underneath.

There are various rubble spreads that may conjoin and the removal of the overlying midden will see how these relate to each other.

Nate from Willamette University, Oregon, USA, planning outside Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

Trench T saw the last remnants of the midden over Structure Twenty-Seven being removed. We should be at a stage tomorrow to get some overall images of the rubble spreads associated with the demolition of this suspected early construction.

One of the last bits of midden remaining to be excavated is the outline of very degraded, large spreads of animal bone. These seem to be associated with an in situ burning episode possibly representing a crude hearth or bonfire that post-dates the demolition layers of Structure Twenty-Seven.

Hopefully we’ll get some nice samples from that to provide a date for the final demolition or deliberate dismantling of this most enigmatic of structures.

And that, dear reader, is how things stand at the end of our nineteenth day on site. Stay tuned and hopefully we’ll have some more revelations tomorrow.

A shower beckons and perhaps some after-sun lotion. But I’ll tell you what, this (slightly weary and definitely sun-kissed) diary-writer is looking forward to getting back to the trenches in the morning.

Tune in tomorrow and hopefully we’ll be able to tell you more.

Until then…