Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Day Twelve

A definite air of anticipation…

Heads down and trowels in hand – the UHI and Willamette students at work on the Trench X extension. (Jo Bourne)

Another day of splendid weather (mostly) saw great progress made all across the Ness today.

And after yesterday’s discovery of the incised stone slab in Structure Eight/Structure Seventeen there was a definite air of anticipation on site as diggers gathered outside dig HQ this morning.

The new intake of students from the UHI and Willamette were mixed up somewhat today – an archaeological entente cordial which saw both groups mixed together and set to continue the work of extending trenches T and X.

Swelling the numbers at Trench T this morning were the youngsters taking part in the site’s excavation club and who, after a personal site tour by dig director Nick, had the chance to carefully excavate areas of topsoil. The youngsters left the site, as usual, happy with their experience of the delights of archaeological work.

Elena and Trench T supervisor Cristina in Trench T, where great progress is being made in the operation to remove ash and midden from atop Structure Twenty-Seven. (Jo Bourne)

Elsewhere in Trench T, work continued apace to remove the ash and midden material from the top of Structure Twenty-Seven. This has revealed more evidence of different stone-robbing events throughout the life of the enigmatic, Early Neolithic building.

These episodes of stone plundering appear to have taken place throughout the development of the massive midden mound in Trench T – not just before, when the remains of the structure had yet to be covered, but during and after the deposition of midden on the area.

The fact that the building was returned to over a period of centuries suggests that Structure Twenty-Seven remained in folk-memory for many generations.

Two years ago, it was suggested that, based on the evidence available at the time, Structure Twenty-Seven had been built on a specially constructed platform. The discovery of more “natural” material (i.e. the original ground surface) at the south end of the structure adds weight to this idea as it appears to have been built up carefully to create a level platform for the structure to be built atop.

The construction of a platform seems highly likely now, especially when you consider the accuracy of the levelling of the huge, stone slabs placed along Structure Twenty-Seven’s interior walls. The megalith-like additions were all within a centimetre or two of each other in height.

Mike and Ceridwen at work in the original Trench X, with the hills of Hoy looking respondent in the background. (Jo Bourne)

In Trench X, the mixed group of UHI and Willamette students have now finished the heavy work of mattocking and stripping the majority of the ploughsoil overlying the new extension.

The mattocks away, it was time to switch to trowels and all seemed to get on well with the work. By the end of the week the overburden in the extension with be off and hopefully will reveal more of the post-built structure under investigation.

Supervisor Sarah and the rest of the Structure Ten team getting to grips with the task of unravelling the complex sequences inside the massive building’s interior. (Sigurd Towrie)

The covers came off the interior of Structure Ten today, with Sarah and her team are now disentangling the last remains of the south-west corner buttress (after the collapse of the original building with in a generation or two of its construction, the remodelling of the interior involved the construction of internal corner buttresses).

Archaeologically, this is an extremely complex area to unpick but it now looks like we have a similar sequence to that encountered at the north-eastern buttress, where there is layers of roof slabs that had been re-used as foundation slabs.

Charlie, a new addition to the Structure Ten team, will tackle this task and look for what we hope are the primary floor levels of building. At the start of the 2019 season, we thought this floor had been removed during the reconstruction of Structure Ten but it might be that it has actually slumped under the south-western buttress.

In Structure Eight, Alice prepares to update the photographic record. (Jo Bourne)

Meanwhile, the problems encountered yesterday with the Total System surveying equipment have been ironed out, so the removal of the last occupation layers across the north side of the central chamber can now begin.

After the excitement of the discovery of yesterday’s decorated stone, activity in Structure Eight settled back into the task of removing the last of the earliest occupation deposits from the north end of interior.

These lie just above the building’s clay floor and are a real mish-mash of small dumps of material. The Structure Eight team, however, are doing a great job disentangling the history of the area.

Linda, Jonathan and supervisor Jim in Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Structure Twelve, Linda and Jonathan continued removing some of the large deposit of material in the north-west of the building to reveal hints of more orthostatic furniture.

Meanwhile, the southern hearth is being carefully examined and the evidence is pointing at repeated episodes of heating events, represented by innumerable bands of ash which are being carefully disentangled, planned and recorded.

Underneath this hearth and surrounding deposits, we are still hoping that some of the stones that formed the original hearth will be revealed. The later hearth under investigation seems too scrappy to reflect the sheer grandeur of Structure Twelve in its original incarnation.

Trench J supervisor Paul at work in the cut that held one of the ‘floating’ hearths encountered above the remains of Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Last but not least, Trench J has been a veritable hive of activity today, much of it also focussing on hearths – in this case “floating” hearths that do not (at present) seem to relate to actual buildings.

The hearthstones from one such example in the later occupation layers above Structure Five were removed today and found to be peck-decorated on the top. A smaller hearth outside Structure Five and near the original entrance has also been found to have been peck-dressed on at least one orthostat.

Inside Structure Five itself, which may originally be as early as circa 3500BC, a quantity of the rough paving that represents the last phase of its use/occupation have been removed.

By the time you read this, our stop-press posting detailing the exciting new find from Structure Eight will already be online. If you have not seen this yet, click here to view.

In the meantime, after a day of sunshine and excitement – in roughly equal measures – we’ll sign off for today and look forward to seeing you again tomorrow.