Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Day Seventeen

Scott and Elena XRF sampling a recess inside Structure Eight this afternoon. (Jo Bourne)
Scott and Elena XRF sampling a recess inside Structure Eight this afternoon. (Jo Bourne)

Sunshine, blistering heat and flies…

Contemplating contexts above Structure Five. Aaron and Trench T supervisor Paul. (Kaehlin Terry)

Wow. What a day. Blistering heat. Flies. Dust.

See, us archaeology types are never happy. Just last week we were complaining about the rain.

But the gorgeous weather (I’m assured it was 24 deg C at one point in the afternoon – and by the purplish tone of your diary writer’s face, I cannot doubt that fact) brought in the visitors by the hundreds. We were inundated today, the numbers swelled by the passengers from the Disney Magic cruise liner docked in Kirkwall.

As regular readers will know, bright sunshine, while it raises the morale of rain-weary diggers, is welcome, it does make archaeological work difficult.

All these harsh shadows rule out photographic recording and makes recognising contexts that are discernible only by the faint differences in colour hues extremely difficult.

But work continued and progress across the site is going well.

One of the two extensions joins the body of Trench T. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Trench T, the section between the south-eastern extension and the main trench has been recorded and photographed.

That task completed, it could be removed and this year’s addition could be joined to the body of the main trench.

This means we are now seeing the full extent of the decorated orthostat that formed the south-eastern corner of Structure Twenty-Seven. Previously it disappeared in the section (trench ‘wall’).

Jenna excavating the interior of Structure Twenty-Seven with the massive 4.55m orthostat placing along the interior of the southern wall behind her. (Sigurd Towrie)

At the base of this huge, flat slab patches of yellow clay between it and the inserted stone that provided the outer support for the suspected ‘stone cladding’ of the interior have appeared.

Could this be the original floor level? Or perhaps a construction technique to hold the orthostat in place? Time will tell.

Meanwhile sire director Nick and Trench T supervisor Cristina have been discussing strategies for the removal of the demolition layers of Structure Twenty-Seven.

Tristan excavating the Eastern entrance to Structure Twelve…(Sigurd Towrie)

There are various options available but they have decided to wait until the end of the week before deciding the best way forward.

In Structure Twelve, the removal of midden supporting one of the flanking standing stones at the eastern entrance has revealed yet another cup-mark.

The large, circular cup-mark is a splendid piece of work. You can still see the individual pecking used to create the design and it serves to emphasise that Structure Twelve was probably the most important structure on site during at least one phase of the site’s life.

…yet another cupmark. (Sigurd Towrie)

It’s possible there was more decoration on the stone in question and that this, and other cup marks, were used to obliterate earlier decoration.

In the putative passageway leading from the eastern entrance of Structures Twelve, more of the bone deposit mentioned yesterday has been removed and some of the remains found to be in excellent condition. This goes against what we also said yesterday about bone preservation on the Ness but does show there are pockets of ‘micro-climates’ within the soil where bone has survived well.

The arc of socket-holes in Trench X. What does it represent? At present the jury’s out…(Sigurd Towrie)

Trench X, and its extension, has been the site of much debate over the past few days. The trench was extended to investigate a series of post-holes that may represent a timber structure.

Although we have uncovered more post-holes these have stopped half-way down the extension. This may represent an entrance or other features. But, at present, the jury’s out, with difference of opinion on the putative structure’s age and nature. Was it a house or enclosure? What was its shape?

Over in Structure Eight, an extremely very fine thin walled sherd possibly from a “mini-pot” was recovered today. This type of pot has been encountered before but today’s example is extremely delicate and features fine, incised decoration on its inner rim. In short its finish and firing, is just miles ahead from most of the Grooved Ware on site.

Tiny but perfectly formed. The delicate fragment of ‘mini-pot’ discovered in Structure Eight today. (Jo Bourne)

Staying in Structure Eight, Scott’s magical XRF unit (for the uninitiated it reads the chemical signatures of anything it is pointed at) was called into action to sample the floor of one of the front side recesses.

This recess contains cat-flap-like holes in the orthostat defining this recess and previous analysis showed high levels of Phosphorous/Rhodium in the area.

Further analysis will, we hope, illuminate the reason why we have these strange “cat-flap” structures in the orthostat.

Trench J has seen great progress. The later, floating hearth at the north-east of the Structure Five exterior wall has been fully excavated and recorded.

Inside the building, the rubble covering the mid-section has been removed ready for the next stage of excavation, while work continues in the 2018 trench extension to remove the midden overlying the western section of Structure Five.

Outside the sun is still shining, so it’s time to sign off for now.

If you’ve not yet visited the Ness, feel free to join any of our daily tours to get the latest thinking on what’s going on. Or, if you’ve been before, come again.

You are more than welcome.

Until tomorrow…