Remnants of a Neolithic snack unearthed outside Structure Twelve

Colin and Ray excavating within Structure Five's central area, with the later Structure Thirty-Two in the foreground. (Sigurd Towrie)

Colin and Ray excavating within Structure Five’s central area with the later Structure Thirty-Two in the foreground. (Sigurd Towrie)

Dig Diary – Day Twenty-One
Monday, July 26, 2021

Well, here’s something new…rain!

The view from the toolshed. The dig team duck for cover during this morning's downpour. (Sigurd Towrie)

The view from the toolshed. The dig team duck for cover during this morning’s downpour. (Sigurd Towrie)

Twenty-four hours ago the weather in Orkney was blistering. Temperatures reached over 70F (21C) and if you watched carefully you could almost see the loch levels retreating.

Though this may seem nothing much  to dehydrated southerners, it is far from normal in Orkney and is no fun at all for diggers whose wrists are aching from trowelling rock-hard ground.

Then, this morning, the rains came. 

But although work had to stop for an hour or so, the rest of the day has stayed blessedly cool and dampish with loosened surfaces for digging and colour differentiation once more revealing disparate contexts in the soil.

If the working conditions have improved the archaeology is as good as ever.

Digging just outside the south wall of Structure Twelve, Ole has uncovered a couple of pieces of a hazelnut shell.

Although when burnt these shells are a favourite dating tool for those working on Mesolithic sites, there is no doubt that there were hazelnuts growing in Orkney in the Neolithic.

Just to confirm matters, the context in which Ole is digging is most definitely Neolithic. The little pieces of nut will be added to our collection of hazelnut shells which have emerged in previous years.

The two charred fragments of hazelnut shell found outside Structure Twelve's southern wall this afternoon. (Ole Thoenies)

The two charred fragments of hazelnut shell found outside Structure Twelve’s southern wall this afternoon. (Ole Thoenies)

Ole at work outside Structure Twelve, where the hazelnut shell fragments were found. (Sigurd Towrie)

Ole at work outside Structure Twelve, where the hazelnut shell fragments were found. (Sigurd Towrie)

Towards the middle of the Structure Twelve interior, Gianluca is cautiously investigating a small pot spread which has pieces of burnt bone perched on top. The bone has been burned at such a temperature that pieces of it have turned white.

Clare planning while Gianluca excavates within Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

Clare planning while Gianluca excavates within Structure Twelve. (Sigurd Towrie)

It’s too early to tell, but supervisor Clare wonders whether the bone may have been within the pot. Burned bone which has turned white is always of interest in Structure Twelve for it was there that the first sherds of coloured pot (coloured white, red and black) were discovered.

That discovery led us a merry dance as we could not definitely say that the white colouring was made from a paste mixed from burned and whitened bone for a number of years.

Intensive analysis with the help of a laboratory at Glasgow University and the expertise of Dr Richard Jones ultimately proved the burnt bone origin of the colour and further details can be found in our major interim volume The Ness of Brodgar As it Stands, available online, at the site shop and in the very best bookshops.

There is, however, nothing to suggest a link between Gianluca’s discovery and our coloured pottery.

Callum planning his excavated section of the northern annex added to Structure Twelve in its second phase. (Sigurd Towrie)

Calum planning his excavated section of the northern annex added to Structure Twelve in its second phase. (Sigurd Towrie)

In Structure Ten, Holly has lifted one of the last roof flagstones from the building’s south recess, where it formed part of the levelling layer for the construction of the phase two buttress and new wall face.

Such events are always of huge interest because it is human nature to hope/expect that there will be something underneath the flag – perhaps a nice pit.

More often than not hopes are dashed and it was much the same with Holly’s flagstone. There was nothing underneath it but more of one of the surfaces which spread across the interior.

Holly, Lisa and Jem at work inside Structure Ten, where the delicate floor surfaces remained covered for their protection. (Sigurd Towrie)

Holly, Lisa and Jem at work inside Structure Ten, where the delicate floor surfaces remained covered for their protection. (Sigurd Towrie)

Further over in Structure Ten Jem is removing the last splodges (official archaeological term) of material over the yellow clay floor in front of the position of the primary phase western “dresser” arrangement.

Lisa is also continuing her work on the robbed-out orthostatic features in front of the north-west corner recess.

We made a mistake in the last diary in talking about the departure of Trench J supervisor Paul to work on a Roman site in Wiltshire.

He’s still here, but only for today. He had a long talk with Chris Gee, who will replace him as supervisor, and Colin who is assistant supervisor and they have worked out a plan for the next three weeks.

Their list includes work on the blocked up south-east entrance to Structure Five and on the floor deposits of the overlying Structure Thirty-Two.

Loose ends will be tied up and all of this will prepare us for the vital work next year of gridding-out and sampling the main floors of Structure 5.

Travis reaches the natural glacial till in his sondage to the south-east of Structure Five. (Sigurd Towrie)

Travis reaches the natural glacial till in his sondage to the south-east of Structure Five. Unlike other buildings excavated on site, Structure Five was built on virgin ground. (Sigurd Towrie)

A little to the north of Travis, Ceiridwen has also reached the natural till. (Sigurd Towrie)

A little to the north of Travis, Ceiridwen has also reached the natural till. (Sigurd Towrie)

And continuing on a theme, the natural till visible under Structure Five's western wall. (Sigurd Towrie)

And continuing on a theme, the natural till visible under Structure Five’s western wall. (Sigurd Towrie)

Paul has also completed work on his 3-D image of Structure Five which, fingers-crossed, will be on the Ness site shortly after this diary is posted.

We were also visited today by an old friend of the Ness, Dr David Sanderson.

David is a vital part of the SUERC dating lab in East Kilbride and has also carried out OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dating at the Ness in years past. His son, Sandy, worked at the Ness as a student, and Nick and David had a good chat.

We will be back tomorrow. Until then…

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