Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Day Twenty-Seven

Badly degraded animal bone within Structure Twenty-Seven suggests it too had a decommissioning feast of its own. (Sigurd Towrie)

Structure Twenty-Seven’s final feast…

Structure Twenty-Seven this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Today has been a day dominated by pottery with a steady stream of Neolithic ceramics making its way to the finds hut from all corners of the site. But more of that later.

We’ll begin today with animal bone – or all that remains of animal bone after lying for 5,000 years in acidic soil.

This afternoon we welcomed Dr Ingrid Mainland, our zooarchaeologist to site. She was popping in to have a look at some of the large, very badly decayed bone spreads in Trench T.

I think it is safe to say she was as horrified as we are about the condition of the bone – which is just pure mush. Even Ingrid was having problems identifying some of the fragments we’d managed to (almost) uncover.

The view from the Iron Age ditch and revetment walls at the top of Trench T, looking down towards Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

But through our careful recording, photography and 3D models as well as extracting as much of the bone as we can, Ingrid will be able to put these deposits into their proper context.

At present, they seem to represent quite an amount of eating, or feasting, associated with the final demolition of Structure Twenty-Seven.

This brings to mind the final decommissioning feast that occurred around Structure Ten but it is not of the same composition.

Lisa photographing exposed pottery in the demolition layer of Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

There seems to be sheep present as well as cattle, much of it heavily burnt, and a greater variety of skeletal remains, not just the dominance of cattle shin bones like the Structure Ten deposit – but the poor preservation makes it difficult to say much more at present. But we’ll do our best to retrieve what we can and unpick the story of Structure Twenty-Seven’s final days.

Remaining in Structure Twenty-Seven, the slab which we think forms one part of the entrance passage – indeed we though it was going to be a long entrance passage – suddenly comes to an abrupt halt just beyond the boundaries of the original trench.

It doesn’t continue – as we had expected – into the new south-easterly trench extension. There is, however, hints of other stonework beyond it so watch this space.

Like the bone spreads, elsewhere in Trench T, the passage seems to have a lower fill of lots of very heavily burnt animal bone, in slightly better condition. This is being retrieved but is proving no easy task.

The Structure Twelve entrance ‘alcove’ – complete with back quern/stone basin. (Jo Bourne)

Time now to return to that most confusingly complex areas of the site – the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve.

We’ve said repeatedly that it is complex but now it seems to have surpassed all our expectations and gets more complicated by the minute.

We’ve got more blocking, small curving walls and more orthostats coming into view.

The little ‘alcove’ on its south side – the one with the stone basin/quern forming part of its rear wall – seems to have been paved.

Whether this paving relates solely to the alcove or is a continuation of paving all the way around Structure Twelve we have yet to determine.

Christine at work on the robber cut outside the entrance to Structure Twelve, with one of the two standing stones that flank the entrance in the foreground. (Jo Bourne)

On the north side, where Christine has been investigating a robber-cut, she has revealed a very nicely preserved piece of pottery.

The sherd illustrates the profile of the pot – from the base right up to the rim – and may be coloured.

We await with interest the return of our ceramic specialist, Roy, tomorrow and the result of his examination of the sherd.

Staying with pottery, Structure Ten has produced more of a pottery type encountered a few years ago.

The initial investigation under one of the four buttresses inserted during the reconstruction/remodelling of Structure Ten’s interior revealed parts of a unique style of ceramic decoration – a skeuomorph – where the pot was incised with pairs of ‘jab marks’ that imitated the stitching on a leather bag.

Packed and ready for inspection tomorrow – the beautiful pot sherd recovered by Christine this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Under the buttress, Charlie has been revealing more of this pottery spread and it may be that we have two separate pots being deposited – and two more possible fragments of the skeuomorph pot have been revealed.

It really has been a day for pottery across the site with the finds hut has been kept extremely busy today with the volume of ceramics coming in – not just nice little sherds and fragments but great slabs of pot that have had to be lifted cocooned in blocks of soil.

All of this pottery is welcome. Once it’s been given time to dry, cleaned and conserved, it’s amazing what can be revealed.

The squashed pot from Trench X, with its base visible at the bottom of the picture. The decoration is the same as that used on nearly three-quarters of the pottery found at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Trench X, more of the middens have been removed revealing stone heaps and possibly elements of another post-built structure.

Its relationship with the known post-built structure is not clear at present but it does seem to be earlier in date.

Trench X also produced its fair share of pottery today but a particularly interesting piece surfaced towards the end of the day.

The pot in question had been squashed into the ground but its base was clearly visible as was much of its body.

What is intriguing, however, is that the pot had a specific style of decoration – three wavy lines – that has been suggested represented the inhabitants of the nearby Barnhouse settlement (indeed, almost three-quarters of the decorated pottery found at Barnhouse featured this motif).

The enigmatic curving wall in Trench J’s Structure Thirty-Two. (Sigurd Towrie)

Sampling was the order of the day in Trench J, where the grid has been established across the floor of the north end of Structure Five. It’s a painstaking task but one that will hopefully reveal much about what went on inside this early Neolithic building.

In the southern end of the trench, more of the walling of Structure Thirty-Two (which sits on top of Structure Five) has been revealed. Unfortunately, however, a lot of this has been robbed out.

Same as our macehead? The rock found by Chris Gee in the Outer Hebrides. (Jo Bourne)

The surviving section is proving something of an enigma because of the way it gently curves – which is completely unlike the straight, interior architecture we see across most of the rest of the site.

We have one other example – the curving wall inserted into Structure One, so maybe this is just another later alteration of Structure Five.

Before we sign off for today, readers will recall the rock found in Hoy at the weekend that bore a remarkable resemblance to the suspect olivine basalt used to fashion last week’s macehead from Trench X.

This was surpassed today when Chris Gee, archaeologist and creator-of-replica-stone-tools, arrived on site with an almost identical piece of olivine basalt that he found at Ness, on the north of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides!