Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Day Seventeen

Curiouser and curiouser…

Ilana and Sarah uncover the new orthostat in Trench T.

Ilana and Sarah uncover the new orthostat in Trench T.


Lewke displays her fine miniature pot.

It is difficult to know where to begin today, as the Ness has become like a vast sweet shop, in which we greedy archaeological children are finding wonders everywhere.

We will start, however, in Trench T, where Lewke has uncovered a marvellous, tiny pot. It is finely made, perfectly formed, and, in other contexts and in a cruder fashion, you might just describe it as a thumb pot.

Generations of children will remember their first encounter with clay at school being thumb-pots — but this little beauty is in a different class altogether.

Let’s call it a miniature pot, for that is what it is.

Lewke’s description of finding it is illuminating. Its context is the midden fill of one of the enigmatic pits at the bottom of the trench, but the little pot was found upright in the midst of midden and beside it was half of a flint knife.

The fact that it is undamaged, but upright and not sitting on a stone, or surrounded by protecting rubble, suggests that it was carefully placed in position and that midden was then gently placed around it to maintain its undisturbed position.

Its interior is filled with midden but it is unlikely that it will be found to contain anything else.

Trench T had another major surprise today — yet another massive recumbent orthostat has appeared.

This one was found higher up in the midden and not at all where one might be expected — roughly parallel to, and midway between the inner side-wall orthostats, but disappearing out of the side of the trench.

The fact it is high does not suggest that it could be part of another structure. Its height merely points out to the possibility of it being very large indeed, and definitely associated with the other large recumbents already uncovered.

It does not, however, make interpretation of the structure any easier, although Nick suggests that one possibility may be that it lines one side of an entrance passage.

Entrance to what? Only time will tell.

Revised plan of Structure Twenty-Seven in Trench T.

We thought we had seen the last of Structure Fourteen, but its ability to cling grimly to life, and to its servant archaeologists, is impressive.

One of the remaining questions lingering over it is whether the side entrance is a later alteration. The discovery of a mass of small orthostat slots to one side has thrown everything in doubt and Nick, Hugo, Woody and Paul have failed to reach a conclusion.

Hugo has also been busy supervising the re-opening of Trench J, originally part-excavated but closed in 2008/9 — no doubt through the exhaustion of all those involved.

It is a fascinating structure, one end of which was uncovered in 2008. After discussions between Nick and Hugo it has been decided to remove more of the infill in order to unveil the full circuit of the oval-shaped structure.

There will also be a review of the monumental drain which issues under the wall of the structure and which then goes straight through the fabric of the “Great Wall of Brodgar” and heads for the loch.

Structure Twenty-Six’s outline is clarified.

Claire continues to work on the midden overlying Structure Twenty-Six and has identified a rather crude oval structure.

Considerable quantities of large pottery sherds are emerging from the midden and it will be interesting to see how this new structure relates to Structures 30 and 12.

The Excavation Club youngsters had a great day on site this afternoon, making discoveries which included a flint scraper, and generally doing a perfectly good job of excavation.

The other, rather overwhelming, element of today’s activities has been the exceptional number of visitors who have been arriving on site.

Almost 500 people came through the gates by lunchtime today and we have had over 9,500 visitors in the less than four weeks we have been open.

We are clearly heading for record numbers, but everyone is welcome.
As we say to all our visitors, no matter where you come from in the world, it was your human ancestors who did amazing things here, so it’s your archaeology as well as ours

Keep coming!

Until tomorrow — which might be damp…


From the Trenches

Trench J is given a long overdue spring clean.

My name is Zoey Rizzo and I’ve been working at the Ness of Brodgar site for about a week.

I came to Orkney as part of a study abroad program through Willamette University. Going into the field of anthropology, I came to the Ness to learn more about the everyday life and culture of Neolithic people.

Having no prior experience being at a dig site or even archaeology in general, I feel like I’ve already learned so much in such a short time.

Earlier today, I completed my first plan of the trench, or a drawn representation of what the trench looks like at a certain depth.

I felt a bit nervous at first because I knew that my drawing was going to become part of the official records of the trench excavation.

However, having my supervisor, Colin, map and grid out the area with me beforehand gave me some reassurance. The reference points giving the latitude and longitude also gave me a geographical reference points to base my plan off of.

Woody and Hugo contemplate the various scenarios regarding the side-entrance to Structure Fourteen.

From there, it was just a matter of making sure to keep the drawings to scale while capturing the details of the layout.

At one point I was concerned that I was taking too long because I still wasn’t done yet and it was almost half way through the day. Though both my supervisors, Colin and Anne, later told me that all plans take a long time if you want to get them right.

It took me little more than half the day to complete it after adding all of the site information to the plan but I was proud of how it turned out.

Now I’m back to excavating the small extension off Trench X we added on my first day. We initially added it in order to find more postholes and remains of a new structure and it looks like our work has finally paid off as Lara unearthed the top of another posthole this morning.

I’m always surprised with the complexity of the architecture that everyone has found at the Ness — to think that people who lived 5,000 years ago could make these structures with nothing other than stones tools is astounding.

With the extension of Trench X, and the reopening of Trench J, it’s only a matter of time before new discoveries are made, but for me this trip has already been worthwhile.

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