Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day Thirty-Three


The later curved wall in Structure One nears complete removal giving one a sense of the true scale of its origin plan.


Stone Age slow cooking…

A sea of planners in Trench T.

A huge amount of planning, drawing and photography is taking place on site today — which is normal for the period running up to the end of the excavation season.

It is an intense, concentrated sort of activity, often made particularly difficult — today, for example — by strong winds gusting across the site.

Thankfully, digging continued in a number of areas.

In Trench J, Alison has been exploring a small, unexcavated corner of the trench, left undisturbed by our 2008 excavation.

Alison reveals more of the basal courses of the outer face of the ‘Great Wall’.

She has discovered more of the outer curve of the “Great Wall of Brodgar” and confirmed that the monumental stone blocks had been removed, probably by stone robbing.

However, she has also uncovered many of the small packing stones, which would have been placed under the blocks in order to level them.

As a further bonus, her work has demonstrated how, when the Great Wall was built, the entire area was stripped of turf right down to the natural boulder clay as, first, a level foundation and also as a place to put the little packing and levelling stones.

We mentioned, in an earlier diary, the stone box which Casey was excavating at the north end of Structure Twelve. It had two decorated sides and has now been totally removed, revealing a large, thick basal slab.

The basal slab from the stone box in Structure Twelve.

Remarkably, the basal slab can now be seen to have a perfect ghost image of the box somehow imposed on its surface.

This is unlikely to have been brought about by direct heat, which would have left quite a different mark.

Supervisor Jim and Casey point out that the box was close to the hearth and Jim suggests that it could have been luted by clay (clay sealing for the joins between the sides) and then, as it is so close to the hearth, been filled with water which would have been heated by dropping in hot stones from the hearth.

This technique was used in the Neolithic, and other periods, for heating water for cooking.

It could have been used for other purposes and there is no doubt that the mark on the basal stone looks very similar to what happens when a wet object is left on a nice varnished wood table.

The complexities of Trench T continue, with a series of intercut pits, some partially lined with stone.

Jim has already suggested that Structure Twelve could have been the location for various cooking activities, citing the large animal bones at the south end, and the “slow cooker” feature formed by a recess opposite today’s stone box.

It is intriguing, and perfectly feasible and brings a satisfyingly human touch to the endless consideration of architectural details.

Our brother blogger, Simon, with his video camera, has recorded a two-part interview with site director Nick which we urge all to watch.

It, along with others in the series, can be found here, in our video diary section, and also on the Facebook page of the Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands.

The wind is now raging and various varieties of rain accompany it.

We’ll see you all tomorrow.


From the Trenches

Hello all!

Simon finds a quiet and windless shelter to edit his latest video blog.

Karin from Indiana here on the blog today. This is day eight for me. There are times I have to take a moment, lift my head up out of Trench P and remind myself I’m really here.

Digging here is the experience of a lifetime, and a highpoint in a life-long interest in the North-west European Neolithic. But the pay isn’t too high for that line of work in the States, for an archaeologist and “stay-at home” mother, so I turned to history/ archaeology/nature interpretation at an Indianapolis area park.

Given today’s major questions surrounding urbanization, climate change, land management, resource procurement and allocation I found myself using a human ecology focus to make the archaeological subject matter relevant, and make sense to visitors.

I have had the good fortune to be excavating in Structure Eight, and I love listening to Roy’s presentations in this regard, particularly. Being here in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, really brings home those lessons in an incredibly vivid way.

I will have a great deal to take home with me in the way of both comparative interpretation and experience.

I can’t thank Nick Card enough for accepting my volunteer application, and this superlative crew that has been so kind and welcoming on top of being cutting edge scientists.

This place is beyond special; I am so honoured and humbled to be here.

I hope anyone that has a desire to get up here and experience this place for themselves- whether volunteering or visiting- can make it.

If you do, give yourself plenty of time to make it around to the geological wonders all around the islands as well as the heritage sites. You will have a MUCH greater appreciation for all the human history represented here, if you can.

I know being here, working here, is going to be a point in my life that I’ll measure everything else against — B.O. “before Orkney” and A.O. “after Orkney”. Cheers!

Karin Maloney Anderson

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