Removal of Trench J ‘landmark’ yields animal bone deposit
Dig Diary – Day Twenty-Four
Thursday, July 29, 2021
An air of calm stillness hung over the Ness excavation today.
This was due, in part, to a thick veil of mist that enveloped the site all day and which, at times, not only seemed to muffle sound but made it difficult to see one end of the trench from another.
With the mist came blustery showers so a large number of the dig team took the chance to catch up with their all-important paperwork. These hiatuses in excavation are necessary because paperwork, although perhaps not as exciting as excavating, is a vitally important element of archaeology.
As site director Nick has commented before: “You’re as likely to see an archaeologist with a pen and a clipboard in their hands as a trowel and a bucket.”
In many areas of the site now, we are working on incredibly complex areas of multiple floor deposits and all of these must be meticulously recorded, planned and cross-referenced.
Although this can be done initially in the trench, there does come a time when you need to shut yourself away with the ever-growing reams of records and make sure they’re either complete or up-to-date. Why? Because it’s essential that we provide a complete record of the excavation to future generations of archaeologists who might, in the decades or centuries to come, pick up where eventually have to leave off.
But while the necessary administration work was ongoing in the supervisors’ huts, excavation continued elsewhere.
In Structure Twelve Gianluca revealed another series of small stake-holes to the south of the building’s northern hearth.
Structure Twelve’s yellow clay floor is pockmarked with these stake-holes – hundreds of them – each representing the repeated construction of small, temporary wooden arrangements around the hearths.
These tripods, spits and racks were probably used for the preparation and cooking of food around Twelve’s massive fireplaces.
If the number of stake-holes is anything to go by, these structures were erected and dismantled on hundreds of occasions and emphasises again the amount of cooking taking place within Structure Twelve throughout its lifetime.
The four new examples excavated by Gianluca were empty, suggesting the small wooden stakes were broken off and left before being covered over by new floor surfaces.
The remaining stake fragments rotted in situ, leaving an empty void under the floor. This is also seen at other Neolithic sites, such as the Wideford Hill Neolithic settlement to the east.
At Wideford the principle was the same but on a much larger scale. There the large stakes that supported the wooden structures had disappeared leaving the excavators facing huge, empty post-holes.
Today the Structure Twelve team bid farewell to Chris Marshall who has toiled away in the trench extension to the west of the building, unpicking and making sense of the multiple layers of deposited midden, robber cuts and giant pots.
We all look forward to seeing Chris on site again soon.
Over in Structure Ten, Holly has opened a sondage – a small but deep exploratory trench – to the east of site of the north-western buttress. As well as looking for evidence of the building’s primary floor, she is looking to clarify relationships between elements of internal “furniture”.
Micromorphologist Jo McKenzie was back in Structure Ten today, sampling a large clay deposit which probably forms one of the major dumps used to level the floor when the building began to slump down into the structural voids lying beneath it.
Jo was also in Trench J, where another familiar sight has disappeared.
For years, a baulk of shillety rubble lay between the north-western wall of Structure Five and the “Great Wall of Brodgar”. This was removed by Ray, Peter and Travis today, in the process revealing a reasonably well-preserved deposit of what looks like cattle bone.
Jo took a sample of the baulk before it finally disappeared as well as a sample of the clay that was used to seal the bottom of Structure Five’s later, northern extension.
Inside the building Michaela was working on the layers that lap up against Five’s blocked south-eastern entrance. Once these have been excavated, the blocking from the doorway can be removed clarifying the position of this entrance in the overall phasing of Structure Five.
Dr Aimee Little, from York University, was back on site today to select tools to sample as part of the Chemarch project. After further discussions with site director Nick and Professor Mark Edmonds a short-list was drawn up to allow the project to proceed.
And at that we’ll sign off for today.
We will see you all again tomorrow.