Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Day Thirteen

Raising the threshold stone

Site director Nick, Mike and Jim prepare to lift the massive Structure Ten threshold stone. (Sigurd Towrie)

This is the day that all true aficionados of Structure Ten have longed for.

Over the years the massive threshold stone in the very entrance of the structure has been the source of fevered speculation.

It’s a threshold stone…it is in a crucial position associated with the initial build…there must, there simply must be something interesting underneath.

For years Sarah, the Structure Ten supervisor, has resisted all attempts to persuade her that the stone must be lifted.

Her reasons were sound.

To lift it would be to do something slightly out of phase with surrounding work. There is also the little matter that 99.9 per cent of interesting stones reveal absolutely nothing when lifted.

Nevertheless, the pressure has grown year by year and this year she capitulated and preparations were made for the lifting of the stone.

This was no easy matter.

It is 5 ft. by 3 ft. and very thick. Heaven knows what it weighs, and it became clear that actual lifting was simply out of the question without causing major hernia damage.

The stone raised slightly, a rope was passed around it, ready to pull it on to awaiting wooden supports. (Jo Bourne)
Heave! Mike, Sigurd and Nick pull the stone inch by inch, end-by-end, on to the supports. (Jo Bourne)

Site director Nick’s eventual plan was simplicity itself. Pickaxes were used to gently lever the stone upwards while stout wooden props were slid into the resulting space.

As crowds of visitors watched from the nearby viewing platform, ropes were also attached and the stone was pulled to the side by sliding it over the wooden props.

There was silence, then a collective indrawn breath as the surface underneath was revealed to show…absolutely nothing.

It’s moving. Slowly but surely. (Jo Bourne)

There is a mixture of clay and soil and the underside of the stone has clearly rotted and had flaked off when it was pulled aside.

There is also a possibility that small chocking stones had been used to make the stone level but, without further excavation, there is nothing to report.

So-called interesting stones have upheld their reputation and work on the massive entrance, probably the biggest of any Neolithic structure in Orkney, will continue as before.

On his morning rounds Nick noticed that more of the external wall face had come into sight in Trench T, although some of it is still obscured by the surviving robbing debris.

And what lay beneath? Nothing. Yet. (Sigurd Towrie)

There are high hopes that more sections of the wall survive intact and will be uncovered in due course, and that it will be of the same superior quality displayed on the rest of the external wall faces of Structure Twenty-Seven.

Compared to the rest of the structures at the Ness, Structure Twenty-Seven is unusual not only its internal architecture but also it is the only building that displays real care and attention in its external appearance too – thus adding to the mystery of what exactly Structure Twenty-Seven was! All to be revealed…

The bone spread from the entrance/passage leading from Structure Twelve emerges. (Sigurd Towrie)

At the south end of Structure Twenty-Seven in Trench T there is further evidence to show that redeposited natural was used to level the building.

After all the excitement over the discovery of decorated stones in Structure Eight, the supply of goodies seems to have dried up.

Never mind. Structure Eight is an amazing building and over the years has produced some astonishing artefacts.

Towards the end of the afternoon Claire has started to investigate the entrance/passageway to the east of Structure Twelve. Removal of some of the collapsed rubble there has revealed a spread of cattle bone – which is excellent news for dating the area.

It is now raining so we will close down…until tomorrow.

Another wall face from Structure Twenty-Seven sees the light of day. (Sigurd Towrie)