Hints there’s something beyond Structure Twelve’s entrance…

Diary – Monday, July 13, 2020
Day Six

Colin reveal a new pecked design in the east entrance to Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

We’re back for week two and looking out the window of “diary central” this morning I have some sympathy for our diggers back in 2015.

Poor weather had plagued the early days of the excavation and already resulted in a cancelled day at the end of the first week (with hindsight, the summer of 2015 wasn’t much kinder for the rest of the season).

As a result, work on site on July 13, 2015, was mostly catching up and clearing rainwater.

There was one hint of what was to come, however, with the discovery of a pecked circle on a stone just inside the east entrance of Structure Twelve.

Little did we know that this would be the first of many delights to emerge from this area in future years.

2015: A rather damp Structure Twelve from above. (ORCA)

Wednesday, Thursday, July 13, 2016, was, quite rightly, heralded a “day of discoveries” across the site.

2016: Kevin reveals more of the eastern side entrance to Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

This was the day that it first became clear there might be something beyond the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve.

This entrance is defined on the exterior by two “standing stones”, one on each side, but excavation on this day four years ago, discovered that the outside of the stones had been blocked.

Back in 2016 this was suggested might represent a passageway running alongside Structure Twelve. As mentioned on Friday, excavation in 2019 excavation revealed an altogether more complicated story with the blocking noted in 2016 probably relating to a later annexe (lovingly nicknamed the “corner of loveliness” due to the wealth of finds) similar to the one at the building’s northern end.

2016: Some of the structural elements of the mysterious building (Structure Twenty-Seven) under the midden heap in Trench T. (ORCA)

There was a major revelation in Trench T, where elements of a potential structure (Structure Twenty-Seven) had started to emerge.

Most importantly, some of these new elements appeared to have a logical connection with the orthostats and drain which had already been noted at the bottom end of the trench.

In 2016, site director Nick was sticking to his gut-feeling that we were looking at the remnants of a chambered tomb, much robbed out but still with a possibly discernible plan.

2016: Chris cleans the southern recess in Structure Eight.

In Structure Eight, excavation of the recesses (the gaps between the piers that jut from the interior walls) raised an interesting possibility.

At the south-west end of Structure Eight, much of the day was spent exposing the mass of rubble in the large end recess. The presence of this terrible floor always seemed strange given the exquisite stonework elsewhere in the building.

But it now seems likely that the recesses may have had raised floors forming a sort of platform over the rough rubble. Something similar has since been suggested for Structure Twelve.

Work in Trench T’s Iron Age ditch reveals a more complex story.

On Thursday, July 13, 2017, a team made some surprising discoveries while investigating the later Iron Age ditch in Trench T  (Iron Age in Orkney is c.800BC to c. AD800).

They found that the revetment wall, on the upslope side, was enhanced by a large bank, itself held at the rear by another revetment wall.

What does all this mean?

If these structures ran right round the crest of the mound – with the ditch open and highly visible on the downslope and the bank above – the visual effect would have been striking.

Given the height of the Neolithic midden mound, the Iron Age additions would have been visible for miles around – no doubt the intention of the builders.

Meanwhile, the trench extension over Structure Twenty-Six continued to producing large pieces of pottery from within the midden. This is not unusual, but again illustrates the difficulty of analysis at the Ness. If pot is found in the midden (as most of it is), it will almost certainly have been curated and moved about before arriving at its final destination.

This makes it incredibly difficult to trace its life journey, or to say where it originated and when – both of which are basic aims of ceramic studies.



There were no diggers on site on July 13, 2018, in preparation for the season’s first open day, so we’ll leap ahead to 2019.

2019: Work to extend Trench T under way at both sides. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: Work in Trench J. (Karen Wallis)

2019: Work in Trench J. (Karen Wallis)

Because July 13, 2019, fell on a weekend, we’ll begin today with the events of July 11, which, due to the weather, were mostly hard manual labour.

The day had started so miserably there were doubts that any work could go ahead. Conditions meant work within the trenches was tricky so the diggers were despatched to the extensions to Trenches T and X.

Trench T was growing again to take in the unexposed corners of Structure Twenty-Seven and the goal in Trench X was to further investigate the linear post-holes which may have been indications of some sort of timber structure.

2019: The backbreaking work of de-turfing the extension of Trench X. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: The tiny arrow point cradled in site director Nick’s hand. (Sigurd Towrie)

As the day went on, the weather improved slightly, allowing some archaeological work to take place. Among the star finds was the tip of a broken arrowhead that emerged from the area between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six.

Because of the break we cannot say for certain what sort of arrowhead is represented, but the discovery point is high up in the section, hinting at something potentially late.

We already have an example from the Ness of a barbed-and-tanged arrowhead, which is an artefact from the early Bronze Age. Could this be something similar? Unfortunately we’ll never know because the rest of the arrowhead didn’t turn up.

Staying in that area, the possibility we had a later annexe outside Structure Twelve was becoming more likely by the hour with a steady stream of decorated stone coming from the rubble infill.

Over in Trench J, we initially thought that Structure Thirty-Two — represented solely by a curved wall in the south-western section of Structure Five — was a separate building, built on the ruins of its predecessor.

2019: Working down the midden layers in Trench J’s Structure Thirty-Two. (Emily O’Farrell)

This was questioned last year, when it began to look like Structure Thirty-Two might represent a later remodelling of Structure Five. But as the season wore on it became clear the original interpretation was closer to the mark and Structure Thirty-Two was indeed part of a later building, probably piered like the others in Trench P.

You may also like...