Big bones, a big pot and another extension for Trench J
Dig Diary – Day Eight
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Extending a trench is no small matter.
It’s really only justified if you have a pressing question which needs answering, and this morning in Trench J, supervisor Paul had every justification to extend to the south-west.
This is his second trench extension of the excavation season. Last week he and the team uncovered a small area in the same direction in hopes of finding the outer wall face of Structure Five, the dominant building in Trench J and one of the oldest Neolithic structures on site.
That extension failed to find the outer face and raised further questions about the meaning of various features and wall lines in the vicinity.
This week, Paul has been pondering the significance of what appeared to be a kink in the line of the inner part of the Structure Five wall, suggesting that further small extension was needed. And so, the arduous task of de-turfing a further extension began this morning.
De-turfing is not fun.
A spade has to cut neat lines in the turf outlining the area to be removed and the turf has then to be peeled back and removed.
If the weather has been dry, as ours has been essentially for the last ten days, the turf and topsoil are hard and the Orkney grass has enthusiastically burrowed its roots deep into the ground in search of moisture.
On this occasion a mattock (think pickaxe with a spade-like business end) was wielded with enthusiasm, and care, and the topsoil underneath was revealed.
Work is going well, but the material being uncovered looks remarkably like wall, but without any sign yet of an outer face. Maybe another extension is required?
Trench J is causing further excitement today.
Duncan has been cleaning away the last vestiges of a baulk just to the north-east of the building and found himself onto the natural boulder clay (the builders of Structure Five seemed to have stripped the site for its construction right down to a firm natural base).
Once the last layer and trample associated with the use of Structure Five had been removed from the natural boulder clay he noticed two distinct darker areas in the clay.
Closer inspection showed that these spreads of material contained charcoal, probably deriving from a fire.
The extraordinary significance of this is that the fire either pre-dates Structure Five or is associated with its original construction.
If sufficient charcoal can be recovered we have every chance securing an exact radiocarbon date for it, and also knowing for the first time the potential age for the construction horizon of one of our very oldest buildings.
Paul topped-off a very busy day by giving a tour of Trench J for the diggers, an event which is particularly interesting for those working in other trenches as it enhances their understanding of the site as a whole.
In Structure Twelve, Sigurd continued working on the collapsed drain at the northern end of the building.
There, he has recovered some very large pieces of bone which, unusually for a fairly acidic site like the Ness, are in very good condition.
Our on-site animal bone expert, Cecily, has examined the bones which, she says, are from two different animals.
One is from a younger cow but the others, comprising elements of leg bone, are from a very big beast indeed.
The bones were covered by a large, flat stone, which may have sheltered the bone from acidic conditions, thus preserving it in such good condition.
At least two more bones are visible in the underlying layers, but these will remain in situ until the extent of the collapse has been confirmed.
A short distance to the north-east of the animal remains, at the edge of the collapsed drain, Sigurd also uncovered several sherds from the base of a very large Grooved Ware vessel.
Residue adhering to the interior of the base shows that it was almost certainly used for preparing food, but the potential dimensions of the pot suggest that it would have produced prodigious quantities of sustenance for the folk of the Ness.
Remaining in Structure Twelve, Kevin and Jenna are cleaning the area to the south of the northern hearth and are now ready for the all-important sampling.
Meanwhile, in the north-west recess, Clare has continued excavating and planning an area of robbed-out orthostats, while Chris and Sue working down through the trench extension to the north-west corner, near Structure Twelve’s blocked entrance.
This will hopefully show more evidence of the original walls and reveal further details of the enigmatic Structure Twenty-Eight, which lies underneath Structure Twelve, although on a different orientation, and which is a masterpiece of both stonework and construction. (For further details see our new book, The Ness of Brodgar: As It Stands, page 62).
In Structure Ten, the necessary planning of the interior has now finished and Sinead and her team are removing some of the last vestiges of the Phase Two of the building. They have also re-established the grid system ready for both further excavation and intensive sampling.
We have also been looking again at the small piece of polished haematite found in Trench J yesterday.
This mineral, which can be used to decorate other material with a rich red colour, is not found anywhere near the Ness but must have been brought from one of the few Orkney beaches where it can be located. The new haematite fragment is a lovely little thing, with clear facets illustrating how it would have been used.
Lastly, but by no means least, we were delighted to welcome back to the Ness Ole Thoenies, the specialist in on-site photography.
Many of you may be aware of Ole’s brilliant work with archaeological small finds and he will be turning his attention to our small finds collection for the rest of the dig.
We will have more to tell you tomorrow. See you then…