Dig Diary – Thursday, July 6, 2017

Day Four

Andy, Jenna and Marc take the last photos of the secondary wall across Structure One, before its removal begins.

Extending Trench T

Bright and early this morning, Mr Flett and his magic digger arrived to extend Trench T. The newly uncovered sections are to either side of the lower trench and are intended to reveal something more of the true nature of Structure Twenty-Seven, whatever that may be.

Vivian Flett machines the extensions to Trench T, under the watchful eyes of Colin and Dave.

With remarkable precision, the digger gradually removed the turf and the colluvium underneath. This is basically hill wash from the slope above and, as Colin remarked, a team of diggers would have taken an entire day to do what the digger accomplished in an hour.

So far, so good. But as Dave and Colin traversed across the newly exposed surfaces with their trowels, they encountered a puzzling variety of evidence in the form of orthostats, possible walls and a section of what may be the poorest walling ever constructed by a Neolithic builder.

Is it a higher area of Structure Twenty-Seven, which would imply an exciting depth of upstanding wall beneath, or is it something entirely different?

It is utterly fruitless to expect quick answers to the mystery of Trench T.

Only careful excavation, and minds with the elasticity of a bungee cord, will piece together the conflicting evidence which has already emerged, and the new evidence today which is equally enigmatic. We hope to tell you more in the coming weeks.

It was damp this morning, and sufficiently so to delay our other area of trench extension, which is in Trench P, and intended to show the relationship between Structure Twenty-Six and Structure Twelve. 

Melissa and Linda reveal the extent of the drain around Structure Fourteen.

Site director Nick had already planned this task for the many students, including those from Willamette University in Oregon, who are due to arrive next week.

He couldn’t wait and, once the rain had cleared, a team, under Mike and Claire, set to work to manually remove the turf and expose the relevant area.

Perhaps the real excitement of this effort (apart from showing how the two structures relate to each other), is to reveal more of the side entrance to Structure Twelve, on the east.

The area already uncovered here shows the entrance to have been really special, with a large stone “welcoming mat” at the actual entrance and, outside, two handsome flanking standing stones. 

In Structure Fourteen, Hugo and his team have been investigating the cuts for the orthostatic features in the building, and also removing  rubble to examine one of the many drains. Not far away Woody came up with one of the nicest early finds when he uncovered a flake of pitchstone — a volcanic glass not native to Orkney.

Last year, the remainder of the Phase Two floors in Structure One were removed and today Andy and her team began the task of removing the large, curving wall which cuts the building in two.

Once complete, this task will show the full extent of the Phase One floors and of the hearth which, for no good reason we can imagine, is bisected by an orthostat related to the later wall.

The dismantling of Structure Eleven, again last year, showed that some of the wall stones, which were decorated with small panels of Neolithic art, had been deliberately hidden, but also had been decorated as the wall was built. 

Will the same apply to Structure One’s inserted wall? We can assure you every stone will be carefully washed and examined to test this possibility. 

Hugo has also taken rectified photography images of the wall today. These will be matched with existing photographs, drawings and laser scans to ensure that every centimetre of the wall, before removal, is fully recorded.

We owe a special thanks today to Greg Telford, who visited today and, as a skilled first-aider, gave vital and caring assistance to another visitor who took ill, before our own first aiders could react.

See you tomorrow, hopefully.

From the Trenches

Huddled together for warmth, some of the team deturf a small extension to reveal more of the relationship between Structure Twelve and Twenty-Six.

I am Christine Fuchs-Khakhar, embarking after a career as a teacher on a new life in archaeology. 

Having graduated with an MA in Archaeology at Birkbeck College, London, I am now researching a PhD about India’s prehistoric Harappan culture. Which takes me all the way to Orkney, of course! 

Day four of our dig — the first somewhat rainy day. But hey!  It’s Orkney – what do you expect? 

I am looking out towards Maeshowe and the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar behind me, and all around me the traces of the Ness of Brodgar.  Mighty stone walls, flagstone floors, standing stones, earthy midden, rubble filled ditches – what can they tell us about the people who lived, worked, gathered here? 

How did their lives change over the centuries that this site was in use? Can we find traces of their mundane daily lives?  Or was it always part of a “ritual” landscape?  And what happened after the Neolithic settlers left?

I am intrigued to find out how people in different parts of the world adapted their daily lives to and in turn changed their environment and I have come all the way from London to undertake a bit of time travel and look deep into the past at the other end of the British Isles.

During my archaeological studies, I visited Orkney for the first time three years ago to explore the ins and outs of Neolithic homes, namely the entrances of dwellings at Skara Brae and Barnhouse.  During those glorious, clear, sunny Orkney holidays, I peered, for the first time, at the Ness of Brodgar dig, from high up the scaffolding provided for the visitors.  No wonder, I wanted to return and be part of the team!  And here I am, together with some friends from Birkbeck’s Archaeological Society, waiting for the minibus to pick us up from the big car park in Kirkwall, taking us to the Ness.  

What can we expect on this first day of the season? 

Well… it’s not the TV documentary pictures of a neatly dug excavation site. Instead, we are greeted by a landscape of hills of black car tyres over expanses of black plastic sheeting and puddles of murky watery biotopes evolved since the end of the last season. 

Our first task is to make (neatly stacked!) mountains out of tyre hills, scooping out the pond life and battling with tarpaulins against the wind. Peeling back the layers of modern sediments we reveal the walls of famous Structure Ten, the nooks and crannies where those bubbly stone balls were found, the deep trench whose layers go back to early Neolithic times. 

But we cannot start digging yet – patience is a virtue for any archaeologist! First, the whole site has to be cleaned and “freshened up” and that means combining our trowelling talents with gardening gifts, getting rid of dandelions, grass roots and moss from the trench edges – spring cleaning Ness of Brodgar style! 

Standing in the deep midden trench of Trench T, Melvyn and I smooth the earthy banks (well, it’s decomposed rubbish actually, or, as Roy points out during his guided tours for visitors “valuable manured agricultural soil”), revealing black, red, brown strata and gently using our brand new leaf trowels to work around the edges of smashed pottery and stones stuck in the wall.  And there are bones. My first find – a thumb-long piece of burnt bone that deserves its own finds tray and context number! 

This must be a good omen for a season of more exciting, fantastic, intriguing discoveries at the Ness!

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