Dig Diary — Tuesday, July 16, 2013
The day started wet and windy, to the surprise of absolutely nobody.
But hot baths, even hotter showers and, in one suspected case, a good hosing, seemed to have cleaned the diggers and restored their spirits and muscle function ready for the new day.
Muscles were needed for the simple reason that, as the Ness excavation site has got bigger, the area which has to be covered and then uncovered has also expanded.
The morning’s duties included the removal of the dreaded bags of earth which had provided necessary support for the many upstanding areas of the structures over the winter.
These are horrendously difficult to lift, especially up the section wall of a trench. However, the work proceeded briskly and by the end of the morning most of the plastic and rock and bag encumbrances had gone.
The only exception was the important floors of the main structures which are to be sampled intensively and which still need protection.
Investigating the mound
Over on the south-east side of the house of Lochview, the new trench was being machined throughout the morning.
The story behind this area is fascinating.
On the road side of the site, a quarry takes a large semi-circular bite out of the mound, which is so prominent just behind the house.
In 2002, some geophysics was carried out there as part of the World Heritage Site Geophysics Programme. The results showed concentric features which were interpreted as the outerworks of a broch.
By 2005, some subsidence of the top of the mound was noted and our own Nick Card, and a team from the archaeology department in Kirkwall, opened up an exploratory trench.
The very first day removed any notions of the Iron Age, for a fascinating assemblage of Neolithic material emerged, including pottery with beautiful scalloped rims. This was interpreted as being the re-deposition of Neolithic material as a result of the late nineteenth century squaring of the field.
The concentric features remain, however, and in the light of the Neolithic structures now being excavated, and of the redeposited material, it seems distinctly possible that the features are also Neolithic.
What could they be?
Only time will tell but the possibilities include the concentric features seen at such Neolithic chambered tombs as Quanterness and Maeshowe, or even the strange stepped Neolithic platforms (such as the one discovered at the nearby Bookan chambered tomb) which could have had goodness-knows-what placed on their summit.
The trench, which is 15 metres by seven metres has been placed carefully over the concentric features, but also downhill towards the loch to see what the relationship might be between the features and other features nearer the loch.
Only time, and some careful cleaning of the soil uncovered by the removal of the turf will tell. Be assured, we will let you know as soon as anything emerges.
After lunch, the sun came out…really!
The diggers gathered on the grass to hear Anne from the finds hut, induct them into the finer points of filling in the correct details on finds bags.
They then had a fascinating talk from on-site geologist Martha Johnson on rock identification.
Because Martha has noted astutely over the past couple of years that some of the smaller, non-building and non-tool rocks do not derive from the area of the Ness.
They have clearly been brought here for a purpose and we need to know what that was. This is a new and important area of research into the story of the Ness and we will tell you more as the dig progresses.
The real archaeology, the digging and the finding, of artefacts and of knowledge, begins tomorrow.
We also start the tours for visitors, at 11am and 1pm conducted by an archaeologist, and at 3pm by a Historic Scotland Ranger. The Orkney Archaeology Society shop on site will also be open with a wide range of products for purchase.
Please come along. We look forward to seeing as many of you as possible.