Round-bottomed pottery discovery confirms early date for Structure Five

Two sherds of the round-bottomed, Early Neolithic pottery found in Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Two sherds of the round-bottomed, Early Neolithic pottery found in Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Dig Diary – Day Twenty-Three
Wednesday, July 28, 2021

We have really exciting news today from Structure Five – that enigmatic building huddled just inside the “Great Wall of Brodgar” and undoubtedly one of the oldest buildings on site.

As regular readers will know we have vast quantities of flat-based Grooved Ware pottery from all areas of the Ness, which we believe probably began to be made by around 3200BC.

There have also been indications of earlier pottery but, in a curiously prescient moment last week, site director Nick and supervisor Paul suggested that if any really early in-situ round-based bowl was to be found it would probably be in the southern half of Structure Five.

That’s exactly what has happened.

Excavating carefully just above one of the floor levels in the central area of the southern half, Ray began to uncover fine, hard-fired pottery which is clearly not flat-based Grooved Ware.

Ray excavating in the southern end of Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Ray excavating in the southern end of Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

It has a notably curved profile, is just 11mm thick, and the exterior surface has been carefully smoothed leaving fine, roughly-horizontal striation marks. It is, in short, part of a round-based bowl.

Other sherds of pot were also found and several clearly come from the same vessel, while others have yet to be disinterred from the sticky, ashy midden material which covers them.

Why is this find so important?

We should say right away that, while round-based bowls preceded the appearance of Grooved Ware, there is agreement that the advent of Grooved Ware does not constitute a clean break with the previous round-based tradition.

In other words, both types of vessel overlapped with each other in the archaeological record.

This in itself is important because discovering them in associated contexts will give vital clues to the actual dating of early Grooved Ware and also evidence of the development of the Grooved Ware type.

The sherds will now dry carefully and will then be cleaned very gently to uncover yet more information from this very early type of pottery.

Travis excavating the rich ashy deposits inside Structure Thirty-Two - the later building overlying Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Travis excavating the rich ashy deposits inside Structure Thirty-Two – the later building overlying Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Structure Twelve, Jan has now finished excavating her post-hole and has discovered, at the bottom, flat flagstones associated with Structure Twenty-Eight, which lies underneath.

Jan's post-hole in the south-eastern corner of Structure Twelve, overlying the wall line of Structure Twenty-Eight. (Sigurd Towrie)

Jan’s post-hole in the south-eastern corner of Structure Twelve, overlying the wall line of Structure Twenty-Eight. (Sigurd Towrie)

It is a well made post-hole with several packing stones and carefully constructed edges and Nick thinks that the flagstones are probably part of the wall of Structure Twenty-Eight.

The packing hole was likely made around the final throes of Structure Twelve, when its imminent collapse became obvious. It would be nice to see more of Structure Twenty-Eight but that will have to wait until much more of the Structure Twelve overlying material is removed.

Structure Twelve (grey) with its predecessor, Structure Twenty-Eight (red). The position of the post-hole is highlighted in yellow.

Structure Twelve (grey) with its predecessor, Structure Twenty-Eight (red). The position of the post-hole is highlighted in yellow.

In Structure Ten there have been many discussions about the problematic area lying between the western dresser and the central hearth. This section is an excavator’s nightmare of collapsed floors, numerous floor patches and episodes of levelling – all of which are extremely difficult to unpick.

The consensus now is that this area and its accompanying complexities may be the reason why the south-west corner of Structure Ten collapsed, and the numerous alterations and repairs represent desperate efforts to save it.

We’ll finish with the weather. It has been miserable, with frequent rain, a gusty, cold wind and a hanging and persistent mist.

It can’t be like this tomorrow, can it?

We’ll tell you…

Chris and Callum outside Structure Twelve's north-western end. (Sigurd Towrie)

Chris and Calum outside Structure Twelve’s north-western end. (Sigurd Towrie)

Callum at work on Structure Twelve's outer annex this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Calum at work on Structure Twelve’s outer annex this afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Jo and Clare discuss sampling strategies inside Structure Twelve on a grey Wednesday afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

Jo and Clare discuss sampling strategies inside Structure Twelve on a grey Wednesday afternoon. (Sigurd Towrie)

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