Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 13, 2016
A day of discoveries
Today it’s time to turn to Trench T (for all you pedants out there, yes, the diary does love a spot of alliteration). This is the trench on the far side of Lochview, which runs from the top of the huge midden mound down to the Stenness loch, and which is supervised by Ben.
Last year, his team discovered more than 20 mysterious pits towards the bottom of the trench, which seem to have been dug out, then backfilled with the midden taken from them initially.
Was it a Neolithic job-creation scheme or were they looking for something? We may now be getting closer to an answer.
One of the tasks this year was to finish excavating the remaining pits and, in some of them, elements of a potential structure have started to emerge at their base.
Importantly, some of these new elements appear to have a logical connection with the orthostats and drain which have already been noted at the very bottom end of the trench.
Site director Nick is sticking to his hunch that these may be the remnants of a chambered tomb, much robbed out but still with a possibly discernible plan. If this is what it is, it must be truly enormous.
To resolve this puzzle it would be necessary to extend the trench again and that is unlikely to happen this year. But it may be possible to fill in some of the gaps in the potential plan of the structure.
However, as today wore on some more exciting elements began to emerge.
Deeper parts of the excavation started to reveal rubble underneath the remains of the potential chambered tomb, indicating activity there before the currently investigated structure was even built. Once again the Ness is unfolding the unexpected and demonstrating the extraordinary time-depth it possesses.
In the main trench – Trench P – the work of planning the sampling of the floors continues.
We told you yesterday how Structure Twelve had decided to align the sampling grid on the structure itself, and not on the site grid, thereby avoiding odd little triangular areas around the edges.
That was possible because Structure Twelve has a large, and relatively simple, interior.
Structure Eight is very different, with many awkwardly-shaped recesses, which will result in awkward areas around the edge of the grid in any case.
It has been decided, therefore, that Structure Eight will align its sampling grid on the site grid. This is an excellent example of the sensible flexibility of approach to such difficult problems which characterises problem solving here.
At the south-west end of Structure Eight, Chris spent most of today exposing the mass of rubble in the large end recess. The presence of this horrible floor has always raised the question of what sort of feet Neolithic people possessed – presumably with concrete toes.
Another idea is now falling into place.
It seems highly likely that the recesses may have had raised floors forming a sort of platform over the rough rubble. It’s not clear why this should be so. Underfloor heating has been suggested but, as this would have ruined the fitted carpets above, that idea has been discarded.
Kevin, one of our UHI Masters students, is excavating the entrance area in the middle of the south-east wall of Structure Twelve.
This entrance is defined on the exterior by two orthostats, one on each side, but Kevin has now discovered that the outside of the stones has been blocked.
This suggests that there may be a passageway running alongside Structure Twelve and originating from another structure which has been revealed in the southern sondage of Structure Ten. We will tell you more in the future.
Last, but certainly not least, there has been an exciting discovery on the north side of Structure Ten.
The paving and passageway which surrounds the structure seems to expand outwards at one point as if it is leading down towards the Harray Loch.
This may turn out to be one of the original entrances to this extraordinary complex, perhaps guiding people up to Structure Ten from that direction, then requiring them to follow the passageway around the structure until they reach the main entrance; defining, in other words, the way people moved and used the area, while at the same time restricting access.
This is an intriguing and exciting new insight into our extraordinary site. We will tell you more as soon as we know it.
Maybe tomorrow . . .
From the Trenches
Hello! My name is Peter Shackleton and I am a Yorkshireman living in Berkshire.
Archaeology is my hobby and, having retired late last year, I can now indulge my passion for excavation all year round!
2016 is my first year working on the Ness and I have found it staggering and exciting to be so close to the most complex, multi-period, “urban” site at the epicentre of Neolithic Orkney.
I am working in Trench X — the new trench that was opened last week for the first time. I find this both exciting and interesting, as we are effectively starting from a blank canvas.
On the other hand, it does make for hard days of trowelling in well-compacted, heavy clay soil that I am reliably informed is known as “the famous midden layer”. That may well be, but my knees and wrists are feeling the pain after a week or so.
We are, however, already seeing evidence of occupation and activity from 5,000 years ago just below the top-soil, including structures and an apparent hammer and anvil, surrounded by waste flakes from the efforts of a Neolithic stonemason.
Personally, my task this morning, to successfully lift substantial sherds of dark-coloured and fragile pottery lodged in the midden layer intact, has been a highlight of my time here so far.
The help and guidance from Anne, and the finds team, is just another example of the friendly and expert support provided by the supervisors and long-term diggers across the site.
If you are new to excavation this is a great place to learn and I am sure that the US and UK undergraduate students that I am working with in Trench X will certainly benefit from that experience.
The fact that they are all MUCH younger than my own children shall remain my little secret.
By the way, if anyone is actually reading this, and has some spare cash to donate to help keep this amazing dig going, I urge them to do so.
Tea break is called, apparently, so it seems I have to close at this point. So, bye for now, as they say.