Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The discovery of a lifetime . . .

The new, very-finely-decorated stone discovered by Olivia. Click the image for a larger, enhanced version.

Hello from a cloudy, but unexpectedly dry, Ness of Brodgar – a day punctuated with high drama as Olivia, a prospective archaeology student, made the “discovery of a lifetime”.

While cleaning next to one of the walls at the north end of Structure Twelve, she let out a rather joyful cry – “ROCK ART”.

We thought she was a trifle excited by her find, but it was not surprising when we saw what was being carefully revealed – a small thin stone slab with some rather fine geometric designs.

There were two finely incised squares, with one filled with cross-hatched lines forming what looked like a slightly compressed miniature chess board.

On closer inspection, two of the lines forming the squares’ sides extended beyond the square and crossed over – almost, as one digger suggested, like a tail on an abstract, square fish, with the cross-hatching representing the scales!

This interpretation may be a bit fanciful, as we have discovered other geometrical patterns of a similar genre – but who knows! A lovely find nonetheless for a very happy digger!

Today, we were also joined by Professor Mike Parker-Pearson, of Sheffield University, who directs the Stonehenge Riverside Project.

Not only has Mike came to view the site, but also give a hand with some excavation.

Mike was set to work in the central chamber of Structure Ten, where he excavated around the so-called “dresser/altar/shrine”, in order to assess whether this edifice was built into the walls or was freestanding.

By the time the day came to a finish, every indication was that it was originally freestanding with a narrow space behind it. A large “dressed” slab (shaped and smoothed by surface pecking) that lay across the front of the “altar” was also today reinterpreted as a fallen pillar that supported the right hand side of it, matching the central red sandstone pillar/support.

Although this now appears as a rather precarious looking piece of stone “furniture”, it must have been kept stable by the weight of the presumed stone shelves that these pillars supported.

Other new volunteers this week were two members of National Geographic – – Christina Elson and Chris Sloan –  whom Nick Card, the site director, met on his trip to Washington DC earlier this year.

They have been getting to grips with Structure Twelve, under the supervision of Owen. Today, they were also joined on site by Roff Smith, one of their storywriters, who will hopefully feature the Ness in a forthcoming article in National Geographic.

Over in Structure One, Ali has now removed the blocking/collapse that filled the third entrance on the east side of the building. This has revealed several upright slabs that may be a series of threshold stones; however, they also resemble a square hearth!

The entrance to Barnhouse Structure Eight, with the embedded hearth.

This may seem a rather bizarre suggestion, and location, for a hearth, but a similar setting was also present in the entrance of Structure Eight at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement and could be interpreted as a method of “purification” before one entered the building.

(And if you are wondering what the grey pipe is running across the middle of the above photograph, this is the main water supply for Brodgar Farm that runs straight through the middle of the site!  It must have been put in many years ago, before the site was discovered.)

In the outer annex/forecourt area of Structure Ten, Mike continued his investigations of an earlier wall that disappears under Structure Ten. Just behind the wall are a couple of upright slabs that seem to form two sides of a large stone box, or cist.

Hopes were high that this box may have held a burial perhaps a foundation deposit.

The upper fills of this, however, have just contained the remains of seashells and animal bone, but, as Mike got lower, a really thick, sticky clay deposit has been encountered. Is this the bottom fill of the box? Or what may this be concealing?

Come back tomorrow for another exciting episode of “The Ness” (weather permitting)!

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