Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 10, 2016
A veritable ‘Day of Stone’
Today was a day of solid, undiluted archaeology. As site director Nick describes it, with capital letter emphasis, a Day of Stone.
You will be glad to hear that here will be no whining about the weather, which has been excellent, until the very end of the diary, when normal service will be resumed.
Anyway, back to the oh, so solid archaeology.
You may recall we mentioned yesterday the two large blocks of yellow sandstone in the south-west corner of Structure Ten. Those were spotted last year but only lifted today, amidst high hopes for more decorative motifs on the faces hidden from us hitherto.
Careful washing failed to show decoration, other than handsome overall peck dressing which, as these stones originally came from the inner chamber of the structure’s primary build, must have enhanced the magnificent architectural effect.
Although both of the stones were broken, a further effect may have been the gentle curvature to one of them which brought to mind earlier discoveries of curving stones in the corners of the structure.
However, Structure Ten had not finished with surprises for the day.
In the interior, Sarah, and some muscled helpers, partially removed one of the later walls on the north side of the building.
This had originally been part of an internal division, but when the stones were washed one of them revealed a series of six or seven small cup marks.
Other decoration included a larger cup mark and a potentially curvilinear feature, which had probably not been finished. Sarah likened it to a doughnut and we can forgive this as we know and understand her partiality to sugary confections.
Over in Structure Fourteen – one of the smallest buildings on site and one heading towards the end of its excavation life – final work was taking place today on the hearth at the south end, under the direction of supervisor Dave.
Extensive archaeomagnetic sampling in the area had already been carried out by Sam, but the actual emptying of the last quarter of the hearth was Paul’s task.
His sharp eyes noticed that one of the hearth slabs had a large lozenge shape incised into it on the side facing inwards.
This means that the decorative element would probably have been brightly lit by the fire when in use.
It is yet another indication of the desire for decoration by the people of the Ness, but also their imaginative use of both materials and placing to ensure maximum effect.
The biggest discovery of the day – and we do mean big – took place in Trench T, where an enigmatic, and potentially huge, structure has been emerging in recent days.
Melanie has been removing part of the midden material which is obscuring some of the features and, in particular, an orthostat which lies at right angles to the main structural features.
This stone had originally looked as if it might be not much more than half a metre long but, as Melanie took away material, it grew longer and longer.
It is now a massive two metres long and, as it heads into the section to one side, is potentially longer even than that.
It constitutes yet another Trench T mystery. Is it the threshold stone for an end recess or is it something quite different? The jury is out!
On the other side of Trench T, another puzzle was emerging.
We mentioned a few days ago a void which suddenly appeared in the midden and which, on closer examination, revealed a wall made of relatively small stones, but which disappeared from sight into the midden.
Mai has been working away at the feature and has now revealed another wall face parallel to the original, but only a few inches away.
This is either the narrowest Neolithic drain ever discovered or may have supported a now robbed-out orthostat. Perhaps it may even have been built to cover the rather shoddy wall next to it.
In Trench X, Colin discovered a nice, though shallow, stone vessel, but this interesting artefact has been completely eclipsed by the extensive remodelling work taking place at nearby Structure Twelve.
To be clear, this has nothing to do with archaeology but everything to do with the comfort of archaeologists.
Jim, who is occasionally partial to a seat and some deep thinking, conceived the idea of a seating area for the Structure Twelve diggers a couple of years ago.
A handsome stone sofa was built, complete with a stone coffee table and some decidedly tatty objects d’art.
This was a huge improvement on sitting in a wheelbarrow or on the ground, but this year Jim’s restless soul yearned for something better, and preferably draught-proof.
The result is some nifty orthostatic work comprising higher back rests for the sofa which neatly deflect the wind rushing up from Stenness loch.
It is something of a triumph and a source of considerable jealousy on the part of other structure workers.
It may also be a delight to future archaeologists, who will marvel at the persistence of building techniques at the Ness running from 3000BC to AD2016.
Now that’s what we call continuity!
There will, though, be no continuity of work here tomorrow, Thursday, as the weather forecast is execrable.
There will be heavy rain all day and the site will be completely closed down until Friday morning.
This summer has been a difficult one and the frequent bad weather has badly affected the revenue we normally receive from generous visitors purchasing items at the shop or sponsoring a site square.
Because of this we feel we must mention again that any donation our supporters feel able to give is not just gratefully received but vitally important.
Please consider if you can contribute to the work here. Without your support we have no idea what will happen now or in the future. The necessary links are https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/2743 or www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/donate-to-the-ness
From the trenches
My name is Robert Gustavsson and I am a volunteer at the Ness, carrying out a number of excavation-related tasks.
When I am not digging here, I am a student at Queen’s University Belfast, about to start my third year of the BA Honours in Archaeology and loving every second of it.
Before I started my studies there I had a vague knowledge about archaeological theory and even less so in practice, but it gave me a wonderful opportunity to enhance my skills. And as it so happened I was fortunate enough to get accepted on the excavation at the Ness of Brodgar!
The excavation at the Ness of Brodgar has been a real experience so far – and not just because of the weather!
Not only has the excavation given me fantastic insight into an extraordinary site and to me new excavation techniques, it has also given me the opportunity to meet fantastic new people from which I learn new things every day.
Apart from trowel work, drawing sections and recording finds, it has taught me a system of recording which I was not too familiar with before, allowed me to participate in “flotting” – a technique for sieving out samples from the site and finding smaller bits of materials – and further trained my eye in the identification of different materials. Apart from all of these new experiences, everyday all of us also get to enjoy the amazing views from the site, no matter the weather.
I am halfway through my time here now – a total of six weeks – and there is never any telling what may come the next day.
Every day is different on this dig, and it never fails to amaze me how much there is to learn. As we watch the mystery of this wonderful site unravel more and more each day, this kind of excitement can be found with everyone here, and people are always curious to know what new things have been uncovered.
These are all things that stay with you, that will be remembered for a long time to come.