Dig Diary – Trench J’s largest axe brings 2022 total to three
Wednesday, July 20, 2022
Today at the Ness was cool, breezy and pleasant, making perfect conditions for digging with not even a single midgie to disrupt proceedings.
It turned up in the trench extension where the UHI Archaeology Institute students are digging. They have been making good progress working through the material on top of the “Great Wall of Brodgar” but had not expected such a magnificent find.
Professor Mark Edmonds, who knows a thing or two about stone axes, examined it in the finds hut. He noticed immediately that the cutting edge was virtually pristine, making it very likely that the axe had never been used, or certainly not re-sharpened.
There was even more excitement over in the central midden area, where Alice and Alette have been digging. Their first significant find of the day was a really fine pot rim. The vessel had clearly been well made and was well-fired, which is not always the case with Ness pot.
Can it be dated?
Fine, well-fired and generally well-constructed vessels are often a sign of earlier Late Neolithic pottery at the Ness but the central midden area is not the best place to date material through the context in which it is found – it is a complex area with difficult stratigraphy.
The sherd has not been cleaned, as it is better to let it dry naturally before very gentle brushing of surfaces. However, the exterior surface in particular has a few thin voids (holes) visible on the surface which is usually an indication of organic temper.
Temper is the material added to the clay to make the intended vessel easier to form before firing. During the earlier period of the Late Neolithic there was consistent use at the Ness of smashed shell as a temper material.
When a pot with shell temper was fired it was normal for the small slivers of shell to burn out as the firing temperature rose, leaving just the sort of thin voids visible on our pot rim.
Closer examination of the sherd when it is dry and cleaned a little should resolve the issue.
We will let you know.
The next find in the area is truly spectacular.
It is a handsome piece of red-coloured rock, carefully dressed and triangular in shape.
It is instantly reminiscent of our other triangular rock, peck-dressed and with bas relief triangles along the bottom of the main face, which was discovered in the infill of Structure Eight.
That stone is even now trundling north from London, where it was an important part of the Ness contribution to the World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum.
Just yesterday site director Nick and finds supervisor Anne spent time overseeing the dismantling of the Ness display and its safe packing for return. They accomplished this remotely on screens in site HQ.
We are desperate to see this stone again because there is a possibility that it may be related to the stone discovered today.
How is that possible?
Today’s triangular stone was discovered in the central midden area while the first triangular stone was, as mentioned above, part of the infill of Structure Eight.
These two areas are not far apart and site director Nick has a feeling that the two triangular stones could have been together as a part of Structure Ten and may have been thrown out when Ten collapsed, was remodelled or robbed of stone.
In Structure One Andy and Jenna continued to work on and around the handsome yellow clay floor.
Today they discovered a little hollow in the floor, near a corner of the southern hearth, and nestled inside was a flint blade, re-touched along two sides. It is hard to see how a blade like that could have been accidentally incorporated in a well-constructed clay floor.
It is possible that it could have been a deliberate deposition, but we will think a little more about that.
We also welcomed to site today Sarah Jane Haston, who is undertaking an MRes on the carbonised plant remains from Structure Eight, along with her supervisors Dr Scott Timpany, of the UHI Archaeology Institute, and Dr Rosie Bishop.
Sarah, who had never visited the Ness before, seemed impressed with the site and was also excited seeing Structure Eight in person.