Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Day Seven

The new sample grid is established in Structure Twelve.

The new sample grid is established in Structure Twelve.

The finds emerge. . .

Jo with her discovery - the business end of a polished stone axe.

Jo with her discovery – the business end of a polished stone axe.

Regular and eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that there has not been much mention made thus far of wonderful finds. To be terribly pretentious about it this may be because, as serious archaeologists, we are much more interested in what finds can tell us, rather than in the fleeting frisson of finding.

Actually, that is nonsense. We are just as excited as anyone by fascinating objects emerging into the light after thousands of years. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

The fact is, however, that finds have been a little slow until today –  probably because the size of the Ness now requires much more preparatory cleaning and tidying than in previous years.

And so, today, the finds started to emerge.

In Structure One, two unusual Grooved Ware rim sherds were found, with incised exterior decoration and an incised line running along the top of the rim. This well-made pottery may be relatively early and probably belongs to deposits associated with Phase One of the structure.

A close-up of Jo's axe fragment.

A close-up of Jo’s axe fragment.

Just outside Structure Twelve, Jo (lest anyone forget, the designer of our beautiful guide book) found the broken butt-end of a polished stone axe.

She is clearly on a roll as she unearthed a handsome sherd of decorated pottery yesterday.

Then there is the smooth, black bead, also discovered yesterday. It is different from earlier bead finds, being more noticeably globular.

Professor Scott Pike has been aiming his XRF (X-Ray Fluorescence) equipment at it and has come up with some interesting results.

The bead is made of a fine-grained, black rock, likely igneous.  The rock does not appear to be a bedded sandstone as the grains are equidemsional and show no preferred orientation or alignment.

A close-up of the new bead.

A close-up of the new bead.

XRF analysis showed the stone to be composed of Fe-rich minerals that also included Ca, Sr, Ni, Mn, Ti and a few other metals.

My analysis cannot determine the relative abundances of these metals, which prevents me from identifying the mineral. I interpret the parallel grooves to be abrasion marks from the polishing processes.

However, Martha Johnson, our other geologist, has suggested it could also be a mudstone with tight bedding.

Further close inspection is required to resolve this geological difference of opinion! Though geologists seem to be like archaeologists, where no two archaeologists agree on anything!

A huge advance has also been made in the knotty question of how to take samples across structure floors without beleaguered staff losing the will to live.

The first structure to be sampled will be Structure Twelve and Nick and Jim have agreed an ingenious solution.

Instead of laying the sampling grid for the floor in alignment with the site grid – which would have complicated matters excessively and which may even have resulted in odd triangular areas emerging at corners – they have decided to align the grid with the actual structure. This is far simpler and should speed matters up significantly.

A series of sondages (carefully planned and relatively deep holes) will also be dug into the floors in order to determine the composition of the floor deposits.

A veritable hive of activity in Trench X.

A veritable hive of activity in Trench X.

Meanwhile, in Trench T the BBC filmed the uncovering of the very large horn core and skull fragments which lie at the top of the trench and which may be from an aurochs –  a very large prehistoric cow.

It may be difficult to prove this identification as the material was in bad condition when discovered two years ago and the succeeding winters have not been kind to it.

In Structure One, Dan and Andy have now confirmed that they are at a level where the main yellow clay floor of Phase Two can be removed, together with part of the later inserted and curving wall.

The top of a new wall is revealed in Trench X, reminiscent of the horseshoe-shaped Structure Seven.

The top of a new wall is revealed in Trench X, reminiscent of the horseshoe-shaped Structure Seven.

In Trench X, some heavy-duty cleaning has begun to show more orthostatic stones and, at the top of the trench, what may just be a companion to the late and unlamented Structure Seven.

More walls lines are emerging and it is all very promising – but of what, we have no idea.

Lastly, we must mention Professor Mark Edmonds, who will be leaving site for two weeks. He has never been absent for such a long period before and is lamenting this by muttering that he has to spend time with his mother-in-law.

Luckily, we know these to be utterly bogus crocodile tears as Mark’s in-law visited last year and is a lovely lady. Also, she lives in one of the most beautiful parts of the world, on a small island close to Vancouver Island, in Canada.

Sorry Mark, you’ll get no sympathy from us and, plus Jen and family, have a lovely time.

More tomorrow.

From the Trenches

Well here we go – my first blog from the windswept awesomeness of the Ness of Brodgar.

My name is Alec and for my sins I am a second-year archaeology student with the UHI. I am what is kindly referred to as a mature student (old git), well into my fifth decade. I am studying archaeology to prove to myself, and a cynical world, that a disability and age should never be a bar to learning.

My first impressions, on a windswept dreich, Monday morning, was surprisingly mind-blowing. After a morning kneeling in the mysterious Trench X, cleaning my little section and recording my one and only find, thus far, a rather sexy, slender, shard of pottery, with a thickness of only two or three millimetres.

I found myself wandering in my wheelchair around the site, studying the remains uncovered so far and it blew me away –  not by its antiquity, given its couple of millennia of existence, nor by its staggering scale, which dwarves any other buildings of its era. But strangely, by its modern looks. The walls that still stand, could grace any modern building, in the surrounding area and counties.

The buildings at the Ness are fine examples of a building vernacular, that remarkably, has remained relatively unchanged, being used well into the 20th century.

It is a vernacular style, that is still incorporated into many buildings in Kirkwall to this day. Fine examples of this uniquely local vernacular to look out for are the interior wall of the flats at the bottom of the Clay Loan and the perimeter wall surrounding the library.

If then, as Ian Hodder states, that archaeology is all about connections to our ancestors, how mind-blowing is it to be able to touch two walls of the same vernacular construction, separated by a couple of millennia.

To know, that the same thought processes, the same ideas and practical skills, even the same materials, connect us directly to those ancestors.

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