Dig Diary — Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Day Twenty-Seven


There’s no doubt that one of the glories of the Ness is the incised stone. It is literally everywhere on the site, in all sorts of contexts and positions.

Antonia has now over 500 examples of dressed, or decorated, architectural stone from site, which rather swamps the total of 70 or so for Skara Brae.

And they continue to turn up nearly every day.

This morning was no exception and the location this time was the removal of the blocking/paving just outside the entrance to the late annexe to Structure Twelve.

A beautiful stone, with deeply incised “butterfly” motifs, had already been removed from this location, and at that time another large flat stone with faint incised lines was  noticed in close proximity.

The removal of this stone was delayed until this morning so that it could be carried out in the proper stratigraphical order.

The surprise came when the stone was lifted and turned over.

Andy records the section through the passageway around Structure Ten.

Andy records the section through the passageway around Structure Ten.

The underside is liberally decorated with a variety of motifs, including the “butterfly”.

An even bigger shock came when it was realised the two stones would fit together and were, in facts, parts of an even larger slab.

A third piece of stone, lying close, turned out to be another joining fragment and these astonishing finds represent only the second time that two or more decorated stones from the Ness can be shown to fit together.

There may even be more and Nick and Jim are considering the possibility that the slab might be an orthostat, or upright stone, whose original location, perhaps revealed by a snapped off base still in the ground, may yet be discovered.

It is always wise to be cautious about interpretation, but it does seem a possibility that this large slab of stone, broken and partly turned upside-down, represents a closing event linked to the time when Structure Twelve went out of use.


Pupils from Stenness Primary School arrive for their annual visit.

There was, however, one more pleasant surprise.

Clearing around the area where the stone had been, Tansy discovered a multi-dimpled stone cube, which must have been very close to, or perhaps perched on, the new stone.

These enigmatic objects have turned up on site before and one interpretation is that they could have been held between the knees by a seated person and used as a small working platform. We’ve tried it and it can be done.

Our visitors today were notably enthusiastic. They were primary children from Dounby and Stenness schools, ably marshalled by Historic Scotland Rangers Sandra, Elaine and Keith. Judging by the shrieks of excitement, they were having a wonderful time and we hope to see them back next year.

More tyres have arrived to hold down the black plastic which will cover the site in a couple of days. We have to thank McConechy Tyres and Kenny Garrioch, from Stromness, for their generosity.

Lastly, and by no means least, the work of recording sections and planning went on all across the site, urged on by the realisation that the final week is slipping past quickly and that a mountain of work still remains to be done.

View from the Finds Hut

Our high-tech equipment.

Our high-tech equipment.

My name’s Scott and I’m just finishing off my masters degree at the University of Glasgow.

This is my third year at the Ness and my second in the wonderfully pedantic world of the finds hut.

When I tell my friends and family about the Ness and the scale of the excavation here, I’m sure they imagine a real slick professional operation with loads of hi-tech gadgets and lab equipment for analysing artefacts.

Would they be surprised to here that the tools I’ve found most useful this year were a secondhand cake-slice and a sheet of scrap aluminium?

The finds operation relies on recycled and generously donated goods from a wide range of places.

For letting our finds dry, we have mushroom baskets lined with newspaper which, as of this year are now colour coded, blue for pottery and black for stone (we were really excited about this, honest!)

For storing the bigger stones and larger pieces of pottery we have polystyrene fish boxes, due to this we now have a new measuring system for stones — halibut or salmon.

A fishbox in use.

A fishbox in use.

For packing away the more delicate finds, we use plastic strawberry tubs and old take-away boxes, clear evidence of a balanced diet.

And for lifting larger pieces of pottery we have the aforementioned cake-slice and aluminium, the former was bought for 50p and unfortunately has no brand name on it as we’d love another.

The spirit of recycling has clearly been passed on to me though as since I spend most of my day sitting down. Sometimes the lightest of physical activity can have unexpected consequences, just as my jeans discovered last week during an ill fated trip to Trench T.

I was stepping down into what was by now a fairly deep hole, when an almighty ripping sound thundered through the Ness.

“Scott, there’s a rip in your jeans”

“Yeah, I know.”

“It’s obscene!”

“…I know!”

“Lucky you’re wearing underwear.”

“You’re lucky I’m wearing underwear.”

After a few days of these exchanges, I finally relented and accepted a donation of a nice pair of third-hand turquoise jeans courtesy of Trish and Georgie, although I’m still getting the hang of the button being on the wrong side.

I hope this has been a revealing look into the finds operation, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank Lidl and Jolly’s fishmongers for the containers, as well as Jo for the newspaper, Georgie for all the fruit tubs and a special thank you once again to Neil and Rosemary McCance, for numbering the small finds bags.

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