Evolution of an excavation: 2007-2009
The second part of our series looking at how the Ness of Brodgar excavation has progressed, and ideas changed, over the years via dig director Nick Card’s annual brief summaries for Archaeology Scotland’s Discovery and Excavation in Scotland.
Annotations in red put the archive information into current site context.
Today we’re covering the 2007 to 2009 seasons.
The trench was expanded in order to uncover the full extent of this structure before dealing with in situ floor deposits. The depth and complexities of later activity represented by ephemeral structures, spreads of ash and midden prevented this being realised.
The massive boulder wall [Northern Boundary Wall aka ‘Great Wall of Brodgar’] that appeared to enclose this structure was revealed this season as having both and inner and outer wall face with a wall core of large boulders. Overall this wall was over 4m wide and survived to over 0.5m in height.
Two new trenches (M and N) were located further across the peninsula over the line of this wall as indicated in the resistivity survey. These showed that this monumental wall did originally extend across the peninsula. As in Trench J, later Neolithic/early Bronze Age activity sealed the remains of this wall.
A polished stone macehead was recovered during topsoil removal of the Trench J extension. Two conjoining pieces of a thin stone slab decorated with incised geometric designs were also recovered. These joined with the decorated fragments discovered in 2006 in the upper fills of a nearby triangular stone cist.
Trench P (20 x 20m) was opened over the structure [Structure One] partially uncovered by GUARD in 2003 in order to uncover the full extent of this building (as indicated by magnetometry) and to explore its relationships with other elements on the Ness of Brodgar.
In its original form Building One [Structure One] is very similar to House Two at the Barnhouse settlement, but exhibits a complex structural history. In its later stages it was much reduced in internal area with the insertion of a large curving wall across its centre creating a structure reminiscent of the building at Crossiecrown.
Surrounding Building One were the remains of several other structures of sub-circular overall form and very regular angular and symmetrical layout.
Several examples of Neolithic art were found, with incised geometric designs similar to those discovered at Skara Brae on the walls of three separate structures in Trench P.
Further investigation of the large late Neolithic complex on the Ness of Brodgar was undertaken in 2008 in order to characterise more of the structures and activity on the site. Excavation continued in Trench P (opened over Structure One, partially uncovered by GUARD in 2003).
The work clarified the relationship of several of the structures.
A sondage against the outer wall face of Structure One revealed three courses of basal slabs at a depth of just over 1m from the surviving wall heads. These slabs projected beyond the outer wall line. The sondage also revealed a V-shaped stone-built drain and confirmed that Structure One had been constructed on midden deposits.
The removal of more collapse and infill relating to the later reuse of Structure One revealed more phases of reuse and its replacement by several small sub-circular single-faced stone structures.
Trench P was enlarged to the SE by 20 x 20m to investigate the nature of a large rectangular structure indicated by geophysics.
The extension revealed a large, sub-rectangular structure [Structure Ten] defined by a wall, c2m wide, with slightly obtuse external angles and rounded internal corners. In the excavated area this structure is c15 x 15m wide, but geophysics suggests that it continues to the E under the present house of Lochview.
Several wall lines are becoming apparent but at present it is not clear if they represent an inner structure contemporary with this ‘outer enclosure’, or if they form a later structure built in the collapse of the former. The E–W configuration of this building aligns with the chambered tomb of Maeshowe to the E.
The Trench P extension also revealed the opposite side of Structure Eight.
This had been partially revealed last year and is less well preserved at this level. As previously a double skinned stone-faced wall with a midden wall core was revealed. Along their length were regular tapered stone-built divisions/piers creating very regular ‘recesses’ along each wall. This structure is c9m wide and as suggested by the geophysics 15m long.
Excavation was continued on the large oval structure, Trench J. The depth and complexities of later activity represented by ephemeral structures, hearths, spreads of ash and midden prevented the full extent of this structure being uncovered.
Trench N was opened in 2007 to investigate the massive boulder wall, the Great Wall of Brodgar, which now seems to span the peninsula.
It was further extended towards the Ring of Brodgar. This revealed that a ditch, c2m wide by 0.5m deep, had coexisted with and run parallel to the wall.
A secondary wall had also been constructed on the inner lip of this ditch to increase the wall’s width from 4 to 6m at a later stage of its life. The ditch terminated in Trench N, implying the existence of an entrance through the wall just to the SW of Trench N.
Over 20 more examples of Neolithic art with incised geometric designs were found on the walls of several structures in Trench P and in the collapse of Structure One. Other notable finds were a polished stone axe, half a cushion-style macehead, and a large quantity of Grooved Ware with both incised and applied decoration.
Overall, the excavations suggest that in one of the later phases of the site several very large and regular stone built structures were built, in use at the same time as and contained by the Great Wall of Brodgar. There were several more structures outside of the excavated areas suggested by the geophysical surveys.
Further investigation of the large late Neolithic complex on the Ness of Brodgar was undertaken 20 July–28 August 2009 in order to characterise more of the structures and activity on the site.
Excavation of Structure One was continued and the removal of collapse and infill relating to the later reuse of the structure revealed more phases of its reuse.
A short curving section of wall revealed last year has proved to be part of a sub oval feature set into the later much smaller remodelling of Structure One. The floor and occupation deposits in the late sub-oval Structure Seven were also examined. These mainly consisted of ashy spreads from a central square stone hearth.
Further work to define Structure Ten (the very large structure revealed in 2008) revealed a main structure, c15 x 15m, with an outer ‘forecourt’ area that extended out of the trench under the house of Lochview.
The central “zigzag” section of walling discovered last year and considered a later insertion formed part of a central cruciform chamber with a Skara Brae style “dresser” present in one recess. The use of non-local red and yellow sandstone and “display art” (cupmarks, cup-and-ring and deeply incised geometric designs) characterised the chamber.
The chamber was defined by walls c5m in overall thickness consisting of two dry stone walls each c2m thick separated by a midden core.
Although sections of this wall had been systematically robbed in prehistory, almost down to the basal courses, in places the outer slightly bowed out wall faces survived to almost a metre in height and revealed stepped out lower courses.
The main structure was surrounded by a c1m wide paved “pathway” that was defined externally by a single faced wall with midden backing.
In the “forecourt” area a section of probable standing stone was incorporated into one of the outer walls. The stump of a second standing stone with an hourglass perforation was recorded next to the first stone. This stone had been reduced in size probably in the historic period.
Trench P was extended in order to examine the extent of Structure Eight (previously revealed as a pair of parallel walls c7m apart with a series of internal recesses along each internal wall face created by a number of opposed tapered stone piers).
A gently curving stone wall between the two parallel wall lines was revealed forming the end to the structure. However, as with Structure One, this curving wall was a later insertion that had reduced the overall length of the building. Small sections of walls that aligned with the original wall lines continued out of the side of the trench implying that it was originally much longer.
Trench R was opened in the southern field across an apparent large linear geophysical anomaly that stretches across the peninsula.
Excavation revealed a large, double-faced wall almost 2m wide. The SE side of the wall against which midden and rubble had been deposited survived to a height of at least 1.3m (the bottom of the wall was not reached).
Inside this wall, sections of several wall lines were revealed that are assumed to represent a phase of late occupation of the site, after the main structures had been abandoned (as revealed in other trenches).
Although differing in width from the previously examined ‘Great Wall of Brodgar’ on the N side of the Ness complex, it is assumed that the two are contemporary and formed an ‘enclosure’ around the main structures on the site.
A large assemblage of typical late Neolithic cultural material was also uncovered including another macehead, four polished stone axes, a blade of pitchstone and Grooved Ware pottery. Numerous examples of Neolithic art were found consisting of incised geometric designs, pecked cup and cup and ring marks and surface dressing of stone faces.