Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Wall’s path detected on a day of delights
Sometimes, just sometimes, there comes a flash of illumination like sunlight flooding the land with clarity and understanding.
It came to our Structure Twelve supervisor, Jim Rylatt, at the weekend and it has made a huge difference to the way we regard the Ness.
Jim thinks out of the box — which is just as well. If his cognitive processes were confined to Structure Twelve’s manic complexities alone, he would have been in therapy long ago.
He was staring at one of Scott Pike’s drone photographs taken last year, at the end of the season, when the grass was quite dry.
Studying the area to the south of Brodgar House, Jim suddenly noticed what appeared to be a sort of crop mark in the grass running along the shore of Stenness loch.
The photo (above) shows location of new crop mark as a solid line and other sides as indicated by geophysics, and presumably that under the road along the shores of the Loch of Harray on the left, by dashed lines)
When he and site director Nick got together, they paced along the loch side and noticed a sudden and noticeable drop-off in the ground surface.
We will not tease you any longer.
This looks very like evidence for Nick’s long-held belief that the Ness complex is surrounded on all sides by a wall.
We have already explored the “Great Wall of Brodgar”, which runs across our strip of land from loch to loch and which curves gently around Structure Five, in Trench J, as if giving it a hug.
We know about the so-called “Lesser Wall”, on the far side of Lochview house and running similarly from loch to loch.
But where, is the question, are the side walls enclosing the site?
We have tried geophysics on the Stenness side, but overhead power lines and a fence line have scrambled the results.
We have opened Trench X, running from just south of Structure Twelve and towards the loch, in an effort to pick up the wall, but it seems we have not taken it far enough down towards the water.
Now, it seems, we may have the answer — although a trench to prove the point will have to wait until next year.
What of the possibility of a wall on the other long side running parallel to Harray Loch?
Unfortunately, there is a road there and we may find that the wall is under it. Somehow, we don’t think Orkney Islands Council will let us excavate their road.
There is another issue to think about, and that is the date of the Great Wall of Brodgar and, by implication, the other wall elements.
The wall in Trench J has a strange construction. It utilises very large and angular blocks of high quality stone to fill the wall core.
This is just wrong!
Blocks of that quality should be used to face the wall, indeed the samples examined thus far would not be out of place in magnificent Maeshowe, a few hundred metres away.
Could it be that the Ness wall and Maeshowe have a stone quarry in common? And what does that say for the dating of the wall?
Dating the wall may be possible if we use Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) to assess the glacial till on which it sits, for that will gives us the last date on which the till was exposed to sunlight.
But OSL is not a perfect technique and Nick may want to wait for other possibilities before utilising it.
Elsewhere on site, one of our young archaeologists, visiting on Young Archaeologists Club day, had a thrilling experience this morning.
Harry was trowelling on the infill over Structure Twenty-Six when he uncovered a magnificent, if badly-damaged cushion stone made from a highly glittery schist.
It is one of the very few examples of this tool type ever found, although a little earlier in the morning, and not far away, Christine also found a fragment of a banded and highly polished cushion stone.
The coincidence is remarkable and, for a few minutes, we wondered if they were both parts of the same tool.
Unfortunately, they were not, but Harry has something remarkable to remember and will certainly be back next year.
Interestingly, a few years ago, Sarah, in Structure Ten, found a double-ended polished stone axe made from the same highly distinctive stone.
Nearby, Ray and Christine continue to excavate the layer of midden infill over Structure Twenty-Six, thereby exposing more of the massive rubble infill/collapse from the structure.
We have high hope of more decorated stone emerging from this area when the rubble is removed.
Now we have a real treat for all those with a sweet tooth.
Our long-time Canadian colleague, Alison, is clearly a restless soul for, when rained off yesterday, she turned her hand to making sweet delicacies.
We can vouch for their deliciousness, although only an archaeologist would describe the making process in terms of stratigraphy.
From the Trenches
Hi folks. My name is Alison McQuilkin.
I came to the Ness of Brodgar for my first summer of excavation after completing undergraduate studies in archaeology, at the University of York, in 2014 and this summer marks my fourth season as a volunteer here.
Believe me, there is something about these isles and living in the presence of the past, that is indeed quite special.
For those of you who have been following the daily blog, you will be aware that yesterday afternoon simply proved too wet to dig.
So what to do on a rainy afternoon?
Well, one thing I’ve learned in my time at the Ness is that archaeologists love sweet things, and so, when I got back to Brodgar Cottage, I thought I’d make a batch of a Canadian delicacy known as Nanaimo bars to share at the site at tea-break today.
Now these bars have stratigraphic layers a bit like the archaeology. The bottom layer is made up of crushed digestive biscuits, (no graham cracker crumbs to be had this side of the Atlantic) melted chocolate, butter and coconut.
The middle layer is even more butter, vanilla, icing sugar a splash of milk and a surprising ingredient, two tablespoons of custard powder.
All this decadent sweetness is then topped off with a final layer of unsweetened chocolate. Once chilled these are the most delightful morsels of loveliness.
They didn’t make it past lunch-break and have been dubbed the Ness of Brodgar Delights.