Saddle quern fragment recovered from Structure Twelve
Dig Diary – Day Nineteen
Thursday, July 22, 2021
We’ll begin today’s diary in Structure Ten, where dig director Nick and supervisors Jo and Sinead got together to formulate a strategy for tackling the enigma of missing floors in sections of the building.
Yellow clay was the Neolithic flooring material of choice at the Ness but in parts of Structure Ten, the area under the south-western buttress for example, it appears that no floor was laid. Why? Was the clay floor removed before the construction of the phase two buttresses or was it never there in the first place? These are the questions we’re looking to answer.
A sondage – a small, but deep, exploratory trench – was discussed to see whether deposits under the yellow clay floor relate to Structure Ten or to another structure beneath.
Various other suggestions were put forward – perhaps the orthostatic recesses along the western wall meant that no flooring was laid in that area (in Structure Twelve the yellow clay floor stopped at the thresholds of the internal recesses). Or maybe the floor was completely removed during the construction of the buttresses. All of these require further consideration.
This afternoon all the covers from Structure Ten were pulled back and all the sandbags removed from its interior. After a good dampening down with water sprays to reveal the colours, work began to spruce up the building’s floor level ready for a drone photography session at the end of the day.
It’s been a while since the full extent of Structure Ten’s interior has been exposed and it looked positively resplendent as Structure Twelve supervisor Jim’s drone took to skies.
The primary building at the south end of Structure Five must have been quite extraordinary. With a two-faced inner wall, with an outer revetment and midden between, it’s construction is very similar to some of the later buildings at the Ness. The quality of the masonry is reflected in the building’s eastern wall.
It seems that Structure Five, although earlier than the piered buildings in Trench P, started off its life in much the same way. It would have looked wonderful – a masterpiece in stone. And then they decided to add an extension to the northern end with inferior stonework and walls half as thick.
At the Ness it seems the buildings’ former majesty didn’t seem to matter when it came to later alterations.
Inside Structure Five today, Chris and Ray revealed the building’s occupation deposits. We’re not sure, yet, which phase of Five’s life these relate to. Further excavation will clarify that.
Star find of the day came from Structure Twelve, where Clare and Gianluca were excavating a rather puzzling mass of stone and midden in the centre of the building.
Examining a rounded boulder in the excavation area she realised, on turning it over, that it was part of a saddle quern – one of only a handful found at the Ness to date.
The quern, which had been deliberately broken, had been placed on top of a bone deposit that, from what we can see at the moment, seems to be made up of vertebrae. Quernstones are commonly found at other Orcadian Neolithic settlement sites but are comparatively rare at the Ness.
The latest example will be put aside until its surfaces can be analysed and hopefully reveal what was ground on it.
Elsewhere in Twelve, the post-holes keep coming. As well as the larger, emergency, roof supports we’ve talked about previously, there are now a series of small post-holes just inside the northern entrance.
We mentioned yesterday that these may have formed a screen or partition. After close inspection today supervisor Jim had no doubt that this was their function – funnelling movement into the northern half of the building in much the same way an orthostat-flanked passage did from the eastern doorway.
House Two at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement also featured internal partitions that divided up the building and controlled movement.
Catriona and Chris continued to work down through the layers of the trench extension outside Structure Twelve’s blocked north-western entrance. Catriona recovered a fine flake of burnt flint while Chris found yet another large piece of pottery.
Although his latest ceramic find was nowhere near the size of those he excavated earlier in the season, it seems that the north-western entrance to Twelve – like other building entrances across the site – could be the site of yet another major pottery deposit.
And talking of pottery, on Monday we shared Trench J supervisor Paul’s 3D model of the large Grooved Ware slab found by Chris.
Paul has made another model, this time revealing the decorated faces. Watch this space. As soon as it is ready we’ll share it with you.