Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day Eight

Antonia recording the Neolithic art in the annex of Structure Ten. (ORCA)

And suddenly summer is here – sun, a light breeze and no midges – heaven! And what a day of archaeology to accompany this fine weather.

Structure Ten is going ahead by leaps and bounds – and in surprising directions.

More of the collapsed material in the central chamber is being removed, and Antonia, Nick, Adam and Scott are having intense discussions about which areas to target with Scott’s portable XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) machine.

This highly-advanced equipment will measure the chemical makeup of the soil of the floor deposits and give solid clues as to what activity has been taking place there.

In search of Neolithic art

Antonia, otherwise, has been mostly invisible – literally.

She has disappeared into the outer annex of Structure Ten and has been drawing the Neolithic incisions visible on the stones.

For all those who may think we go on too much about the weather, today’s bright sunshine gave her work a surprising bonus.

As the strong sunshine angled down in the morning, Antonia began to see more and more examples of Neolithic art.

In fact, in some large areas of the outer annex, almost every stone is decorated in this way. The designs are the ones we have come to expect from this site in that they are the standard Neolithic geometric patterns. These ones, however, are very lightly incised. What is utterly astonishing is their number.

Macehead and pierced bone discovered by Jane in Structure8

Macehead and pierced bone discovered by Jane in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

Back in Structure Eight, superlative finds continue to be revealed, adding to a growing catalogue of amazing objects that would seem to secure the non-domestic nature of this 20 metre plus long structure.

Jane, while excavating next to one of the piers, revealed another stone macehead.

Unlike the others so far revealed on site, which have been broken across their perforation, this one has been cleaved along its length so that the entire circumference of the near perfect hole is preserved – so smooth and straight that one feels that a better work of art could not be produced by power tools! And just next to it a perforated bone.

Cattle bone deposit

Only metres away, in another side recess, Roy’s removal of more roofing slabs revealed a small cache of cattle astragalus bone. One might have not paid much attention to a single bone but this group would seem to be a deliberate deposit.

Hugo and his team have been working solidly in the northern corner of the site, defining what started as rather scanty wall-lines.

Now he has identified at least two new structures, to be named Structures Thirteen and Fourteen, and it is clear that yet another phase of this extraordinary site is emerging from this corner.

Giant pot

And there’s good news for pottery fans.

Martin exposes his massive pot outside the southern entrance to Structure 1.

Martin exposes his massive pot outside the southern entrance to Structure One. (ORCA)

Martin is excavating an area outside the south entrance of Structure One.

This entrance appears to have been blocked at some time and covered over with midden. Then, in a later phase, the entrance area was dug out again and re-used.

The final abandonment of this area seems to have included the deposition of what is likely to be the biggest Neolithic pot any of us have seen.

Its exact dimensions will be revealed as Martin works but, unfortunately, it is not in good condition. Nevertheless, with careful excavation enough will be recovered to give us a good understanding of this remarkable monster pot.

An almost complete pot outside Structure Twelve.

An almost complete pot outside Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

Not far away, Kelsey and Elle are working outside the entrance in the annex at the northern end of Structure Twelve.

On one side of the entrance, they have discovered what seems to be an almost complete pot, and on the other side a large spread of broken pot. We are recognising that deposition of different objects together is relatively common at the Ness, although the significance of a group of similar bones (as in the passageway surrounding Structure Ten) will need further thought.

From the Trenches

I’m Andy and I’m taking a couple of minutes away from my trowel to write today’s blog.

As a student studying environment & heritage studies at UHI, I was given the opportunity to work on the Ness of Brodgar Neolithic site, as a “digger”.

Only two days left in the trenches as I approach the end of my two weeks of practical archaeological excavation.

Tea-break in the sun.

Tea-break in the sun. (ORCA)

My time, so far, has been spent excavating the interior of Structure Twelve. Being exposed only last season, this structure is near virgin territory. This has made for some great finds in the top meter of digging, and some scope for hypothesising and ruminating on what may have been happening here 5,000 years ago?

I can’t help but daydream about my time with the Himba and San peoples of Namibia and wonder what they would use this site for?

Yesterday, a fellow digger unearthed the rim of a pot and after painstakingly working his way around and down, he has unearthed a near complete vessel! Just half an hour ago, the site director, Nick, took responsibility for the final wrapping and extraction of the magnificent find!

This pot is just one among many fantastic pieces of Grooved Ware pottery which has been popping out of the ground with amazing regularity since the first trowel struck soil!  I’ve been lucky and found a good range of pieces, from hand hammer stones and pieces of cramp, to my own finds of Grooved Ware.

Orkney is showing off its finery today under the unending blue skies, not only the Ness where we are, but the Ring of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness are glistening in the sunshine.

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