Dig Diary – What a day! Flint, incised art, dressers and a polissoir
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Conditions at the Ness were grey and damp as the diggers began arriving on site this morning.
But despite this gloomy start there was a ray of light on the horizon – a site tour by director Nick and the structure supervisors.
The Ness is a huge excavation site and when you are assigned to a particular area, not surprisingly, you tend to focus on it. So keeping up with the discoveries and developments across the site can be difficult (unless you read the daily diary, naturally).
The diggers’ site tour addresses this, keeping everyone involved in the excavation up to date with the current state of affairs.
And by the time we’d finished, the sun had even started to put in an appearance!
UHI Archaeology Institute student Mark was trowelling down through the layers remaining over the massive wall when he found a huge (and still sharp) flint flake.
Such was its size that we can state that it is the biggest example found on site in almost two decades of excavation! And it must have been struck off from an equally impressive flint nodule.
Mark’s discovery is the latest in a series of remarkable finds by UHI students this year, all of which were well deserved. The hours spent extending the trench and deturfing paid off and they are to be commended for their hard work.
They are now nearing the end of their time with us and will be sorely missed.
Inside Structure Five, the removal of Thirty-Two was completed and the area planned and fully recorded. It has also been extensively photographed by supervisor Paul, who will use the images to immortalise the area in a 3d model.
But guess what. The exciting discoveries kept coming.
Fans of Trench J will know that it has produced a considerable number of polished stone axes over the years. We’ve had three this year so far and today, near Structure Five’s eastern interior wall, Elzo found one of the tools used in their creation.
A beautiful pollisoir emerged this afternoon that had seen considerable use.
A pollisoir is a stone used to grind and shape stone tools. And today’s example showed clear signs of use, with striations visible along the length of its concave surface.
Remaining in Structure Five, in particular its primary, rectangular section, we also now have evidence of what might be an early “dresser” arrangement.
Chris, Aaron and Elzo were working along the robbed-out wall to the north of the original structure (removed when the oval extension was added later in its life) when they came across a series of stone “boxes”.
Because the upper layers are long gone, we can’t say for sure but it looks like we either have the remains of a prototype Skara-Brae-type dresser or something akin to the “cupboards” encountered at the Knap of Howar in the 1970s.
Similar stone settings are also visible around Structure Five’s original western and eastern walls.
“Dressers” have been encountered at the Ness before and have become iconic symbols of Skara Brae, where you can see complete examples.
But the significance and role of these so-called dressers has been questioned over the years. They were built to the same design and placed in the same position — directly opposite the entrance.
The term “dresser” is a hangover from the Victorian antiquarians, who first investigated Neolithic structures in Orkney, and basically saw the stone edifices as display cabinets, where the inhabitants put their best pottery and other prized possessions on show.
But were they more than just a set of shelves?
Their presence in buildings at the Ness of Brodgar, in particular Structure Ten, reignited the debate as to their purpose.
Skara Brae’s “dressers” were built against the walls but in Structure Ten the primary dresser was free-standing and incorporated slabs of striking red and yellow sandstone — stone that had been brought to the site and presumably for that specific reason.
And Structure Ten’s non-domestic role suggests these “dressers” may have been more than storage units…
Today In Ten Kaehlin was working around the western wall, looking specifically at a flagged area with upright orthostats. This most likely represents a second “dresser” added to Ten in its second phase remodelling.
Word from the building is that the feature will be closely examined in the coming days, with a small exploratory trench planned.
It was during the phase two remodelling that an intriguing range of artefacts were placed beneath the chamber’s corner buttresses. Will there be something similar beneath the dresser? Watch this space.
In true Ness tradition, Structure Eight has produced another example of an incised stone.
While perhaps not as grand and well executed as some of its predecessors, its discovery fits a pattern already noted within the building.
Among the many changes to the fabric of Structure Eight during its second phase were extensions added to the stone piers that divide up the interior.
These extensions were simply stone boxes tacked on the ends of the piers and filled with an assortment of rubble and stone. As we’ve discovered previously, this filling material also included incised and cup-marked stones.
The latest example came from an extension to the robbed-out pier in the building’s north-eastern corner. Ray is continuing to dismantle this extension so there may be others to come. We’ll keep you posted.
Over in Structure One, Andy and Jenna continued to focus on the yellow clay floor around the southern hearth. The extent of the clay floor remains unknown – was it just a halo around the hearth or did it extend further out into One’s interior.
To answer this question Andy has begun a sondage that will examine a narrow area of the surface between the hearth and the southern interior wall.
A quick and elegant solution that means she and Jenna will not need to chase the yellow-clay floor across the entirety of the building. Not yet, at least.
Nick has sanctioned the widening of two shallow trenches across the building’s interior to give a better idea of the floor levels and which, we hope, might reveal evidence of a hearth.
Once again, we’ll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, for those who like to plan ahead, a reminder that our open day, on Sunday, July 31, is rapidly approaching.
As well as seeing the archaeologists in action and tours, there will be activities on site and in the Stenness Community School from 11am until 4pm.
Look forward to seeing you then.
But before that we’ll be back tomorrow with more updates. Until then…