Is Structure Five earlier than the ‘Great Wall of Brodgar’?
Dig Diary – Day Eighteen
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
We’ll start today with three interesting developments in Structure Twelve.
Working just outside the south wall Ole has found a striking piece of fine pottery.
It is a small rim which, despite the lack of curvature in the sherd, must have come from a fairly small, fine vessel. Just below the rim, on the interior surface, there is a horizontal incision and on the exterior surface, again just below the rim, there are two further horizontal incisions parallel to each other.
We have known for a long time that the people of the Ness, in the later Neolithic, were capable of producing very large Grooved Ware vessels, often of questionable durability. The example we have been discussing earlier this week, again from just outside Structure Twelve, fits that description well.
But evidence has been growing in recent years that the Ness folk were also perfectly able to make very fine and often beautifully decorated little pots.
This was brought home to us again this year when we asked Cecily, who processes the bulk samples from the site by passing them through water and ever-finer sieves (a process called flotation), whether she had found any fine pot sherds amongst the treated samples. She responded with a large box full of just exactly that.
Many of them were fine detached decorative cordons, but a number were also examples of fine, small rims, very similar to Ole’s example today.
These fine sherds will form a separate study where we will think carefully about dating, production techniques and the use of this type of pottery which, at the moment, we assume may have been principally for the serving of food or drink.
That thought also brings us to considerations of societal changes at the Ness reflected in the pottery; the type of foods produced and also issues relating to consumption and feasting.
As you may understand from all of this, the study of prehistoric ceramic material is about much more than just typology and cataloguing.
Still digging in the south-eastern recess in Structure Twelve, Jan is carefully revealing a post-hole. Structure supervisor Jim points out that there are a growing number of post-holes appearing in Structure Twelve recesses and suggests that they held sturdy wooden posts designed to support the roof of the building when it became unstable.
Interestingly, Jan’s excavation has revealed a small bag full of what looks for all the world like poppy seeds from inside the post-hole.
Our on-site geologist, Martha, has identified them as the degraded remains of a piece of camptonite rock which has been subjected to considerable heat.
Sigurd also has post-holes, but small ones.
They lie at the north end of Structure 12 and are thought to have formed part of a screen or partition, perhaps associated with the nearby blocked door to the north-west and the new entrance in the north wall.
In Structure Ten Mark has almost finished his sondage. He has recovered material for carbon dating but can’t reach any further down and rejects any suggestions that his arms are too short.
Nick wondered if Jo McKenzie, who is not the largest micromorphologist on the planet, could be popped down the hole but for some reason she was not keen.
What she can do, though, is to take her own samples from the lowest deposits which will hopefully tell us whether they relate to the floors of Structure Twenty, underneath Structure Ten, or whether they may reveal another building of some sort under Structure Twenty.
The possibilities are fascinating and, as the lowest deposits are damp, there may be important organic material in deposits recovered.
The dry weather has enabled the Structure Ten team to see more clearly an extensive black layer which, although associated with different contexts, forms a distinct horizon. Jim is planning a drone flight and photographs over the building to see what more can be revealed.
In Trench J the mystery of the multiple walls which have appeared at the south end continues.
Supervisor Paul has given the natural boulder clay surface outside the outer wall face of Structure Five a good clean, and has uncovered a ridge, which may show the original wall line.
This might be confusing to those (including us) who thought we already had the original wall line of Structure Five. That is now being re-thought and there is a possibility that what we believed to be the primary Structure Five might be nothing of the sort – it could be a second or third version of the building!
It is entirely possible that the “kinks” in the wall, which widen the building, may be part of the wall line of the absolute original Structure Five.
This brings a further, revolutionary thought.
If the original Structure Five was wider, it will have come uncomfortably close to the massive northern boundary wall – the “Great Wall of Brodgar” – which partially encloses it. In fact it would have been difficult to move between the two and this makes no sense at all.
So, is it possible that the original version of Structure Five was actually older than the boundary wall and, in fact, preceded it entirely?
These are big, big questions and could alter our understanding of this extraordinary site.
In contrast, and back down to earth, we were visited today by the famous flint-knapper and archaeological reconstructionist, experimenter and re-enacter, Will Lord.
It was good to see him and will be just as good to see as many as possible of you visiting the site tomorrow.