Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Initial clean of Structure Eight after the covers were removed from its north end.

Initial clean of Structure Eight after the covers were removed from its north end.

Day Seventeen

A glimpse of the Iron Age?

Today was pottery day at the Ness. Aren’t you lucky? Okay, we’re biased, but those who moan about yet another pottery sherd emerging from the midden to add to the thousands already in the Orkney College stores should reflect on the fate of Trench T.

This enormous, deep, and not wholly entrancing, trench on the far side of the house of Lochview has been sliding into disrepute. To be more accurate, it has been sliding into the Iron Age.

This is not what is wanted, or expected, from any self-respecting Ness trench.

The scalloped rim sherd from Trench T.

The scalloped rim sherd from Trench T.

A couple of human teeth, a human bone, some Iron Age pottery and some earlier pieces of iron, all from the top of the trench, had eclipsed the Neolithic material found last year.

Trench supervisor Ben was even spotted, sitting on the side of the trench sobbing quietly. (Okay, that’s not strictly true: as an archaeologist of repute he would welcome any material). But it is undeniable that what is wanted is the Neolithic, in abundance.

Today these wishes were fulfilled. At the top of the trench a magnificent piece of scalloped rim pottery was unearthed, only to be followed by several more.

More Neolithic bling

A scalloped rim is like a wavy pie-crust and is definitely decorative as opposed to practical. You can’t pour from it and you can’t drink from it. Frankly, it is Neolithic bling, but in a nice way.

Scalloped rims are quite well known in Orkney. Rims of this sort with applied decoration are a component of the Pool, phase three assemblage, in Sanday and have turned up recently at the Links of Noltland, Westray.

They are also found at Crossiecrown, a site just outside Kirkwall.

Interestingly, the Crossiecrown scalloped rims are from much larger pots than those at the sites already mentioned. Our rims are also massive, which is perhaps understandable with the proximity of Crossiecrown.

Scalloped rims are found on the most spectacular Grooved Ware vessels and also on the some of the largest. Our sherds tick all the boxes.

The effect of this magnificent find on Trench T has been to resurrect its reputation. It is now back in the Neolithic where it belongs. Hurrah.

The finely incised pot sherd from the central midden area.

The finely incised pot sherd from the central midden area.

Our next lovely piece of pottery comes from the central midden area. It emerged in a large block of midden and has turned out to be joining sherds with horizontal incision under the rim and with fine chevron incisions below that.

There is a large base and, excitingly, more pottery embedded in the block, which will reveal itself over the next day or so.

We’ll now move on to more ordinary, but just as important, matters before the anti-pottery police confiscate the computer.

It was great to see the youngsters of the excavation club on site today. They had a masterclass on animal bone with Ingrid and learned how analysis of bone can tell us much about the Neolithic economy. This was followed by excavation tuition around Structure Twelve.

A happy line of trowellers join the Excavation Club.

A happy line of trowellers join the Excavation Club.

Inside Structure Eight

In Structure Eight, the recording of the remnants of the central baulk is almost finished and it will be removed finally tomorrow.

The plastic covers have been peeled back from the floor allowing the beautiful nature of this structure to be revealed.

Yes, it may have collapsed but the piers are magnificent, as are the five (at least) hearths.

The floor sampling, which will start soon, will reveal even more of its history as samples will now be able to be taken from across the whole floor.

The removal of the debris from stone robbing in antiquity has demonstrated convincingly the handsome nature of Structure Twenty-one, situated alongside Structure One.

It may have been robbed but it’s piers are lovely and it is undoubtedly yet another of the large piered structures which make up such a major part of the site.

If you are very, very lucky (and if we can get away with it) we will have more pottery for you tomorrow.

Until then . . .

From the Trenches


Kath Fraser.

Hi! I’m Kath Fraser, I’m 32 and I’m halfway through my 2nd year of a 4 year degree at Moray College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands, studying ‘Archaeology and Environmental Studies’.

I’ve always had an interest in archaeology, but I felt I wouldn’t do well on the pure archaeology course so the inclusion of ‘Environmental Studies’ seemed to fit me really well, and it has given me a good grounding in the science side of things also.

I’m here in Orkney at the Ness of Brodgar completing a module called ‘Excavation Skills’ which is designed to give a very broad overview of all the different aspects of an archaeological dig.

I chose this dig in particular for two reasons.

Firstly, I’d never been to Orkney and really wanted to see what the islands were like, but most importantly I’ve had a fascination with the archaeology that’s in Orkney for a very long time – so when the opportunity arose to actually dig on the Ness I knew I had to take it!

Dr Ingrid Mainland explains the value of animal bones to Daniel, a budding archaeologist.

Dr Ingrid Mainland explains the value of animal bones to Daniel, a budding archaeologist.

I’ve been working in Trench T, which is away from all the structures in the main Trench P, and there’s some really interesting things going on in there. For example today an incredibly beautiful piece of pottery was found.

In my seven days here on the dig, I’ve been learning some trowelling techniques, floatation, sorting small finds and soil samples, as well as  a very brief introduction to levelling, GPS and the Total Planning Station.

Today, I’ve been sat in a trench trying to find a new context layer and I really thought I wasn’t getting anywhere when suddenly there appeared before me a completely different colour of soil.

I’ve now learned that this is part of a cut that the rest of the team were looking for at an earlier point in the dig – so I’m feeling quite happy that I’ve been able to help, even in such a small way!

I’m really enjoying my time here at the dig and it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of what it is I’d like to focus my studies on. I love the flint – thank goodness I’m surrounded by people who understand my love of flint, I’d don’t feel quite so awkward when I exclaim: “Oh look at THIS beautiful little piece!”

The best part of being here, next to just being in Orkney itself (I would love to live here! What a place!), is most definitely the people on the dig – what a great range of people, all with wonderful stories to tell, and all so happy to help a complete newbie!

I can’t thank them enough for making my first excavation such an enjoyable one, you’ve all left me with very happy memories!

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