Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 31, 2018
Ticking off another on the Ness wish-list
There’s no doubt that at the Ness we go in for excess.
We have masses of everything; buildings, stone artefacts and pottery in particular.
At the last count, two years ago, we had around 45,000 sherds of Grooved Ware pottery, constituting by far the biggest assemblage of this distinctive pottery type which can be found all over what is now Britain and Ireland.
In these circumstances you tend to notice what you don’t have, and what we have never had is pottery with the impression of basketry on its surface.
Until now, that is.
Over in the midden between Structures Twenty-Six and Twelve, Travis – yes Travis again – uncovered this morning some very large pottery sherds, one of which constituted a base and wall sherd.
When the base was turned over there were gasps of excitement for, clearly imprinted on the base were the marks of a basketry mat.
What must have happened all those years ago, just after c 2800BC, was the careful construction of this large Grooved Ware pot.
The pot must have been either placed on a basketry mat when in the leather-hard or semi-plastic stage before firing.
As the pot has applied decoration on its exterior surface, this may have been done in order to turn the pot more easily for the application of the decoration.
Alternatively the vessel, which is on the large side, may have been a touch wobbly, in which case it may have been put into a basket in order to stop it collapsing.
This might have resulted in the pot leaning to the side so, once all of the sherds are recovered, we will look closely to see if the side walls of the pot also have any basketry impression.
For the moment we are delighted with the impressions on the base.
And there is something else to say about Travis.
For the last few years the Ness of Brodgar Trust has been the recipient of a generous financial gift from Susan McGrath, one of our former diggers.
This has been given to outstanding archaeology students from our University of the Highlands and Islands and it has been a tremendous help in enabling them in their studies and fieldwork.
Today we had something new from Susan – her leaf trowel.
All excavators develop relationships with their favourite trowel, but leaf trowels, slim, strong and highly effective, become special for many, including your diarist.
Susan asked us to give her leaf trowel to a deserving digger and Travis, still a schoolboy and work-experience recipient, although hopefully a UHI archaeology student of the future, was presented with the leaf by site director Nick.
It turned out he had always wanted one and had been on his wish-list for his growing toolbox.
So, many thanks to Susan for her generous gift.
We can assure you, your leaf is in good hands and may yet feature in next generation excavations.
We told you yesterday about Nick’s desperate struggle with his urges, by which we mean his usually suppressed desire to extend trenches.
We also mentioned his decision to make a small extension in the side of Trench T as an interesting orthostat had been spotted.
That orthostat is now growing and looking more than ever like what may be an orthostatic stall division of Structure Twenty-Seven.
Meanwhile, in Trench Y, the pioneers searching for the putative side wall may have found m
ore indications of stone robbing. We don’t want to raise hopes, but this could be an indication that some of the wall remains in situ.
Structure Eight has been quietly humming with concentrated effort for several days now, but only now have we discovered what they have been finding. The finds trays coming in from the structure today contained four polished stone spatula tools.
These have become a specialty of the structure, for several beautiful examples were recovered in past seasons, apparently forming part of a Neolithic ‘tool kit’ which also included other stone tools and a large flint knife.
Their purpose is completely unknown but, as we now have some worn examples to study, the application of use-wear analysis may shed light on this difficult question.