Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Day Twenty-Three

The suspected path of the massive drain discovered between Structure Twelve yesterday. Click the image for a larger version.

‘Grandaddy of all drains’ reaches 30-metre mark

Looking across the ‘central paved area’ towards Alice, contemplating the hole leading to the massive underground drain. (Jo Bourne)

Tell someone that one of the greatest highlights of this excavation season is a drain and you will get some strange looks. 

But this is no ordinary drain. As we explained in the diary yesterday, this is a superdrain, the granddaddy of all drains and, as site director Nick described it today, one which stretches across the site for 30 metres plus.

He has been closely reviewing some of the hitherto mysterious lumps, bumps and slumps on site which may now be seen as directly related to the presence of the massive drain underneath them.

It is almost certainly primary to the earliest phases of piered structures on the site and clearly played a central role in the way in which the early piered buildings were laid out.

In addition, it could be brimming with all sorts of environmental material which we can analyse, and also quite possibly contain a selection of artefacts.

Evidence from archaeological sites from all periods shows that the most surprising items have found their way into drains and latrines, a process which still infuriates Orcadian B&B owners who have septic tanks and thoughtless visitors.

Laser scanning

Looking like something straight out of ‘The War of the Worlds’ the Leica 3D scanner at work in Structure Twenty-Six this morning. (Sigurd Towrie)

Some highly desirable scientific equipment arrived at the Ness today in the care of Elias and Emily.

Elias is a Masters graduate from Harvard University Graduate School of Design in the USA and the pair are testing out a mini laser scanner, on loan from Leica, on Structure Twenty-Six.

The results of their work will be incorporated into our own and will lead to further fascinating 3D models of the buildings and a welcome element to the site archive.

Soil science

Jo and Scott examining chemical spectra, which reflect the composition of the sample from Structure Ten. (Sigurd Towrie)

We haven’t mentioned much about the wonderful soil science working being conducted on site.

Structure Ten supervisor Jo McKenzie is a senior exponent of this particular dark art and keeps a closer eye on soil samples than most.

Working in the north west corner of Structure Ten, Holly brought to her attention a dark red blob (scientific term) which looked interesting.

The background to this is the discovery in that area of Structure Ten in previous years clear evidence of pigment working, presumably to produce colour for the walls of structures and for some of the Grooved Ware pottery.

Professor Scott Pike from Willamette University has recorded the “red blob” today with his XRF equipment and has detected the presence of a range of elements and metals including calcium, manganese, zinc, strontium and zircon.

The Neolithic period is, of course, long before metals were recognised and used as distinct metals.  But these most likely constitute further evidence for the production and possibly use of natural colouring pigment in that area of Structure Ten.

Scott is also using his drone, in collaboration with Jim Bright and his camera, to produce more 3D modelling information for Structure Eight.

Ceridwen painstakingly excavation a huge spread of broken pottery at the top of Trench X. (Sigurd Towrie)

This will give an excellent overview of some of the new elements discovered there including the hearths, one of which relates to Structure Seventeen underneath.

It will also illuminate how Structure Eight relates to Structures Thirty-Four, Thirty-Three, Twenty-Four and Twenty-Eight and the activity between Structure Twenty-Six and Twelve.

Pottery counselling

We can’t end without mentioning the large pottery spread which has appeared at the north end of Trench X.

This contains several large pottery sherds and many smaller sherds and fragments. It is reminiscent of the pot spread at the north end of Structure Twelve which, in years past, kept Mic and helpers, including Helen, occupied for many long, weary weeks. It is possible that counselling will be need for those working there. Click here for more images.

See you all tomorrow.