Dig diary – Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And still the long anticipated deluge predicted for this week has thankfully failed to materialize – a bit greyer and cooler than one might hope for but still very workable.

The BBC arrived back today to continue their filming, just in time to witness yet more intriguing discoveries in Structure Ten.

Adam has been removing deposits that lie over, and around, the central hearth.

His first discovery was yet another large block of stone, displaying several cup marks, right in the middle of the hearth. Was this a deliberate positioning of the stone that marked the last use of the hearth? Its location would seem to be more than coincidence!

Excavation of the cattle skull in the hearth of Structure Ten, with the new cup-marked stone in the foreground.

Then, just to the east of this stone, near the inner edge of the hearth, the upturned skull of a cow was revealed, complete with its upper set of teeth. The arrangement of cattle skulls in particular places is an often recorded feature of prehistoric sites, perhaps exemplified by the recent discoveries at the Links of Noltland.

Does this inverted skull represent the final meal prepared in this structure and, if so, is it related to the huge deposit of cattle bone (mainly cattle tibia) in the upper fills of the surrounding, paved “passage” that seem to indicate a massive feasting event  when this building was “decommissioned” – it is tempting to think so!

How our ideas of deliberate deposition of animal bone in such contexts have changed over the years, compared to when Skara Brae was excavated, by Gordon Childe, in the 1920s.

When Childe encountered animal bones in some of the Skara Brae houses, he envisaged a rather squalid existence with the occupants chewing on bones in their beds then literally throwing the discarded bones to one side where they lay!

The uppermost layers of infill in Structure Twelve continued to be removed and the structure then cleaned for photography. Gradually, as some of the collapse from the puzzling north end of the building is unpicked, the apparent multitude of walls that seemed to envelope this end of the building is starting to make sense.

As with Structure One, there seems to have been several phases of alterations, with an entrance being narrowed; a complex “porch” type arrangement being added; and sections of wall being rebuilt.

Like the other structures the stonework is something to behold – beautifully built walls, with tapered piers creating recesses along each side wall, and the possibility of smaller, perhaps corbelled, recesses at either end of the side walls.

The smooth vertical faces look as if they have been carefully sculpted flat, but this is a byproduct of some of the local stone. Both vertical and horizontal fissures in the rock allow it to be quarried this way with naturally flat surfaces.

The nature of the much-anticipated cist under the wall of Structure Ten has almost been revealed. Removal of the last of its fills has shown that the presumed side slab is, in fact, tied into the earlier wall that also disappears under Structure Ten.

It therefore seems to be part of an internal division within this earlier structure. It is interesting to note that the internal face of this associated wall is slightly curved, unlike most of the later structures we are dealing with, where straight lines is the order of the day.

Does the apparently oval building under Structure Eight, the oval building excavated in Trench J (in previous seasons) and this building constitute not only an earlier phase on site but also a major change in architecture, perhaps reflecting other major changes in the Neolithic!

Ali’s work in the third entrance to Structure One is definitely paying dividends. Not only has she revealed a paved passage between Structure One and the earlier phase of Structure Seven, but also some “artwork” and a small ceramic bead.

This apparent passage between the two structures may put a totally new complexion on the site, or at least some of phases of construction.

Although most of the buildings on the Ness were basically free-standing, unlike the subterranean nature of much of Skara Brae, perhaps there were enclosed passages that joined some of the buildings, creating a series of covered walkways – will we find more evidence for this – watch this space, as they say, (well, perhaps next year, as this season seems all too quickly to be coming to a close)!

From the Trenches

Yesterday was one of my happiest moments ever as I found something so amazingly cool and exciting, I had to do a little dance. I found a Neolithic incised stone! (There’s a picture of it in yesterday’s entry).

Nick Card, the excavation director, said that I had peaked at the beginning of my archaeological career! I’m only about to start an anthropology and archaeology degree at Kent.

I am a volunteer, digging in Structure Twelve, which was opened this year.

In this building, we have been pulling out quite a lot of finds, most of it bone and pottery but there has been worked flint, quartz and my fantastic stone. As I type, the BBC are filming the excavation of a bull’s skull and we also have representatives from National Geographic magazine digging away.

Today in Structure Ten, Mike continued his excavation of a pit with one of the lining stones exhibiting cup marks. The pit is filled with limpet shells and cow bones. Maybe it was a container for limpets like at Skara Brae?

They have also found a pecked stone in the centre of the hearth, which the BBC is coming back to film. In Structure Seven, they have found a hearth, as well as a passageway leading to Structure One with decorated stone frames!

Today is the last time Trench R (also known as the Lesser Wall of Brodgar) will be dug this year. Paved stones were found round the base of the wall, so, hopefully, it’s another walkway. There is another structure beneath the wall, so more work to be done next year!

I’ll be back next year, so see you then.

Olivia Moreton

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