Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Day Eighteen

A close-up of today's macehead.

A close-up of the macehead found in Trench X today.

Peter with this week's star find.

Peter with this week’s star find.

A macehead and an anvil stone

As the blog was being put together, at the end of the day, Trench X produced another impressive find – a macehead or rather, as usual, half a macehead.

Peter was trowelling the ashy midden deposits near the top of the trench – barely 12 inches below the topsoil – when he started to uncover the rather beautiful find.

Careful excavation revealed half a “cushion” macehead that, although still covered in its muddy shroud, could be seen to be a rather fine and usual example.

Most cushion maceheads have parallel sides but this one had a slightly “waisted” appearance with a flared end.

The perforation across which it was broken (probably deliberately as with most maceheads) was again perfection – carefully drilled from both sides.

To say that Peter was chuffed with his find is a slight understatement – the find of a lifetime!

The top of Tim's pit can be seen as the dark stain on the left of the picture, adjacent to the north wall of Structure Twelve.

The top of Tim’s pit can be seen as the dark stain on the left of the picture, adjacent to the north wall of Structure Twelve.

Those of an optimistic turn of mind cope well with the miserable sort of weather we endured at the Ness today.

It’s not so much that it rained heavily, but rather that we were enveloped in sopping wet cloud. All very nasty.

The best way to survive seems to be to assume that there is some sort of recompense for being wet and chilled to the bone.

And, yes indeed, that is exactly what happened today.

Through the mirk and the mist, hovering gloomily over Structure Twelve this morning, Tim could just be seen working at the northern entrance to the building.

The anvil within the pit in Structure Twelve.

The anvil within the pit in Structure Twelve.

Within the doorway he had prepared a threshold stone for lifting.

Once lifted, it became clear that the stone was covering a clearly defined pit and, when the pit filling was carefully planned, recorded and then cleaned away, something very interesting began to emerge.

At first it was just the tip of a stone. More careful work revealed this as the top of an anvil stone with some very interesting percussion, or pecked, marks on it.

One of our on-site lithicists (stone tool experts) was called over and identified it, possibly, as the sort of specialised anvil stone used for the production of flint tools.

Making flint tools on a stone anvil is called the bipolar technique.

In essence, it requires the holding of the flint nodule firmly on the anvil before striking, and this produces two points of percussion –  one where the hammer implement had struck and one on the underside of the flint where it had impacted against the anvil.

The proof of this theory in Structure Twelve will be the discovery of flint tools with bipolar impact scars. We will have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, over in Structure Ten, Mike and Claire continue to work away at the large bone spread under the buttress.

A good deal of pottery has been found in that locality, some of it of considerable interest, so there was heightened attention when a large piece of very crumbly pottery began to emerge.

Mike extracts more bone from Structure Ten.

Mike extracts more bone from Structure Ten.

When it was removed, some more pot appeared, which seemed to be enveloping an intriguing stone. Could it be another carved stone ball, or something equally interesting?

It has now resolved itself into a long, torpedo-shaped sandstone pebble with banded red colouring running along its side.

At first glance it looks as if the red bands, naturally produced by layers of stone, may have been enhanced in some way.

An initial theory is that the stone may have been used as an implement for shaping bone pins, for which long, thin depressions in the stone would be ideal.

The discovery will go through our finds procedure and then will go for careful observation under a microscope. We’ll show and tell you later what we find.

Trench T, lovely and intriguing as it is, has not been renowned for the quality of its pottery. Typically we find rather coarse, broken sherds with rather coarse, applied decoration.

The finely decorated pot sherd from Trench T. It will show more once it is cleaned.

The finely decorated pot sherd from Trench T. It will show more once it is cleaned.

That changed today when, at the bottom of the trench, the team unearthed a very unusual sherd with a complex decorative pattern on the exterior surface and decoration on the inside of the rim.

It was found in the vicinity of the intriguing structure, glimpses of which can be seen at the bottom of the trench.

Perhaps this is more than a coincidence and we may expect more of this excellent pottery.

With a rare happy coincidence, we were visited today by Dr Ann MacSween, from Historic Environment Scotland.

Ann is one of Britain’s foremost pottery experts and so was able to give us some instant guidance on the various sherds of pottery discovered here today.

She will also be assessing the progress of Sam Harris, the HES funded PhD student conducting archaeomagnetic investigations with us this year.

John, from the Isle of Man, receives his 'long-service' gift from Nick.

John, from the Isle of Man, receives his ‘long-service’ gift from Nick.

A special mention for John, our friend from the Isle of Man, who has visited the site on a regular basis over a number of years and it is always a pleasure to see him. In recognition of his long-term support he was presented with a copy of the guidebook by Nick.

We would like to remind everyone that our first Open Day takes place on Sunday, July 31. This means that there will be no diggers on site this Friday, July 29, and that guided tours will be restricted to 11am and 3pm.

Could we also repeat our appeals for much-needed funding for the myriad archaeological tasks we are attempting this year.

Any donations will be very welcome, via http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/donate.  Thank you for your support.

Until tomorrow . . .

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