More maceheads, axes and horned spiral decoration…

Diary – Monday, July 27, 2020
Day Sixteen

2011: The macehead and pierced bone in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

2011: The macehead and pierced bone in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

Structure Eight has a reputation for fine artefacts and it didn’t disappoint on July 27, 2011, when an almost complete macehead was found beside one of the building’s piers and alongside a perforated bone.

2011: Cache of astralagus bone in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

2011: Cache of astralagus bone in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

As far back as 2011, it was noted that the deposition of different objects together was a relatively common occurrence and this day saw more examples to add to the list.

In Structure Eight, the removal of roofing slabs revealed a small cache of cattle astragalus bone. While we might have not paid much attention to a single bone, this group seemed to be a deliberate deposit.

Over at the southern entrance to Structure One it was a pottery vessel causing excitement – and rightly so. The pot was massive and was later found to contain a highly polished, quartz flake, perhaps part of a polished stone axe or macehead. The vessel was also likely to have been deliberately deposited in the entrance when the area was abandoned.

Staying with pottery, a almost-complete vessel was found outside the entrance annexe at the northern end of Structure Twelve, lying beside a large spread of broken pottery.

2011: The almost-complete pot outside Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

2011: The almost-complete pot outside Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

Bets were being taken in Structure Twelve on this day eight years ago!

The recess or blocked entrance in the south of St 12.

2011: The blocked entrance in the south of Structure Twelve.

There was some debate under way as to whether an apparent locked entrance in the south wall was indeed that or whether it would turn out to be a recess.

Those backing the blocked entrance hypothesis were correct – it was indeed one of the three original entrances to the building and blocked, along with the north-western doorway, when Structure Twelve was remodelled.

The grandeur of this first phase of Structure Twelve was also becoming clearer in 2012, with incredible stonework revealed and numerous peck-dressed blocks recovered from the collapse in its interior.

2013: The macehead fragment from outside Structure One. (ORCA)

2013: The macehead fragment from outside Structure One. (ORCA)

Another macehead fragment was found on July 26, 2013 – this time from the midden area outside Structure One. 

The end of the fragment was unmarked, suggesting it had never been used but it was possible to see the percussion point where it has been broken, probably deliberately.

2013: The finely decorated pottery sherd. (ORCA)

The same area produced a delicately decorated pot sherd. It had two round impressions with thin, applied cordons radiating from them.

These two finds were the latest in a series of ceramic and polished stone fragments, suggesting that pits were being dug outside Structure One and objects placed within.

Outside Structure Twelve, the operation to lift another very large pot took place under the watchful eye of finds hut supervisor Anne. The pot was decorated with applied cordons, a partially scalloped rim and with large sections squashed on each other. After some careful excavation, the pottery remains were transferred to the safety of Anne’s domain.

2013: Finds hut supervisor Anne with the large pot outside Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

2013: Finds hut supervisor Anne with the large pot outside Structure Twelve. (ORCA)

In 2014, the discovery of a fragment of spatulate tool within the midden infill of Structure Eight sparked a debate on site.

2014: The polished stone axe fragment from Structure Ten. (ORCA)

2014: The polished stone axe fragment from Structure Ten. (ORCA)

It seemed that the material found in the structures’ infill might mirror the artefacts found, and the activities undertaken, within the buildings themselves. In Structure Twelve, for example, the infill was full of coloured Grooved Ware pottery, reflecting the large amounts of pottery that was beginning to turn up in the floor deposits.

The robber cut in Structure Ten produced another example of a polished stone axe – but in this case a large fragment that had seen considerable wear over time.

Finds on July 27, 2015, included pottery, beads and more decorated stone.

One example of an incised stone was particularly puzzling. The slab was in the north-west corner of Structure Ten and it seemed there was colour in one section that respected some of the incised lines.

2015: The new decorated stone from Structure Ten. (ORCA)

It’s another macehead fragment that begins our look back at 2016 – in this case a cushion macehead from Trench X.

Cushion maceheads have parallel sides but this example was unusual in have a slightly “waisted” appearance with a flared end.

2016: A close-up of the Trench X macehead.

In Structure Twelve, just inside the northern entrance, a threshold stone was lifted and found to be covering a clearly defined pit.

2016: The anvil stone within the pit in Structure Twelve.

Once the pit filling was planned, recorded and cleaned away, it was clear that something had been deposited – an anvil stone with some very interesting percussion marks on it.

Closer investigation revealed that it was a specialised anvil stone used for the production of flint tools.

Making flint tools on a stone anvil is called the bipolar technique. The flint nodule is held firmly on the anvil before striking, and this produces two points of percussion – one where the hammer implement struck and one on the underside of the flint where it had impacted against the anvil.

 

July 27, 2016: Paperwork in Structure Ten. (Karen Wallis)

July 27, 2016: Paperwork in Structure Ten. (Karen Wallis)

Another massive recumbent orthostat appeared in Trench T in 2017. It was found higher up in the midden — roughly parallel to, and midway between the inner side-wall orthostats, but disappearing out of the side of the trench (clearly visible in the 2019 aerial photograph of the structure below).

Its discovery was not making the interpretation of Structure Twenty-Seven any easier but one suggestion was this it lined one side of an entrance passage.

2017: The revised plan of Structure Twenty-Seven in Trench T.

The inner face of the 'Great Wall of Brodgar' once again sees the light of day.

2017: The inner face of the ‘Great Wall of Brodgar’ once again sees the light of day.

In Trench J, which was re-opened in 2017 for the first time since in almost a decade, the magnificence of the “Great Wall” was visible again.

Some of the younger archaeologists on site had seen drawings, illustrations and photographs of the curving boundary wall, but to see its massive stones first-hand saw a few raised eyebrows!

Cleaning work in Trench J was still ongoing but one of the planned early tasks was to remove the traces of the later ephemeral activity, which was obscuring some of the details of Structure Five – an early building that pre-dated the piered structures in Trench P.

2017: An oblique shot of Trench J, Structure Five and the ‘Great Wall’. (Scott Pike)

In the final minutes of Friday, July 27, 2018, the largest polished stone axe discovered at the Ness emerged from Trench Y.

Its edge had been very heavily used and despite the fact it was badly damaged, it was a sight to behold.

Marcus's stone axe in situ in Trench Y this afternoon.

2018: The stone axe in situ in Trench Y. (Sigurd Towrie)

Over in the area between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six (see 2019 entry below), another horned spiral motif was found on one end of a block of stone. If that wasn’t enough, the other end featured an “eyebrow” motif.

2018: The horned spiral decorated stone from the area between Structure Twenty-Six and Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

A close-up of the Structure Five decorated stone.

2018: A close-up of the Structure Five horned spiral. (Sigurd Towrie)

This was hot on the heels of another horned spiral discovery in Structure Five – although this one was not particularly well executed.

The horned spiral motif had been found before in Structure Twelve, and other examples are known from Orkney, including the early Neolithic settlement at Smerquoy and the chambered tomb of Pierowall Quarry in Westray.

 

 

2019: Tristan at work by the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve with the annexe to his right. (Sigurd Towrie)

Last year it became clear that there was more to the area between Structure Twenty-Six and Structure Twelve than met the eye.

As excavation outside the eastern, standing-stone flanked, entrance to Structure Twelve progressed it seemed that we were dealing with an annexe that had been added to the building during a later phase of its life.

This addition incorporated a third large standing stone that subdivided the chamber into two cells, filled with pottery, animal bone and decorated stone – both incised and cupmarked. Although we did not reach the base of the stone in 2019, there are hopes it might survive to 4-5ft high.

2019: An incised stone by the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve. Click the image for a larger version. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: Structure Twenty-Seven looking resplendent from the air. Click the image for a larger version. (Scott Pike)

 

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