Shoddy building work, new procedures and a fossil fish!
Dig Diary – Day Twenty-Two
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Structure Twelve’s northern annex. It’s been called many things over the years – an add-on; a porch; a vestibule. No matter what it’s called you can’t escape the fact that it is terribly built.
Regular readers will have seen us use very disparaging terms to describe its build quality, the most common of which is probably “shoddy”.
There’s just no getting away from the fact it’s an archaeological miracle that it’s still standing.
Seen in photographs, the northern annex looks okay. In fact, from some angles it can look quite photogenic. But the view up close paints a very different story.
The annex was added to Structure Twelve during the second main phase of use. The primary phase ended when the building’s south wall collapsed, taking much of the roof with it. Rather than abandon the stricken building, it was decided to reconstruct it. But these repairs were not exactly high quality.
At the same time the north-western and southern entrances were blocked and a new entrance inserted into the north wall. This led into the new annex…
For the past few weeks Calum has been toiling away at the north-western side of the annex, trying to untangle the story of its construction and how it was added to what was, at one time, the shining glory of Ness architecture.
And now, for the first time, we’ve got a much better idea of what went on.
It seems, based on current evidence, that the annex’s addition was as inglorious as its architecture. Rather than clear away the huge bulbous mound of midden that sat at the north end of Structure Twelve, our Neolithic construction team simply cut into the midden and built the annex walls up against it.
While this was undoubtedly a quick solution, we can’t help but think that they knew it was shoddy build. Was it meant to be temporary? Perhaps a stop-gap until a more permanent solution could be found? Or were they not overly-concerned about how the new addition looked?
One thing is for sure, the fact it survived to its current height is something that continues to amaze us.
Inside Structure Twelve, Sigurd continued to unpick an increasingly complicated sequence of floor deposit in the north end. Among these deposits was a large hammer stone. It showed clear signs of being used to strike something and seems to have been placed deliberated between a long, low orthostat in corner directly beside the north-eastern pier.
Normally, this would have been classed as a small find and transported to the Finds Hut for processing.
But things today happened slightly differently…
Visiting the Ness this week is Dr Aimee Little, from York University. Aimee is one of the principal leads of the Chemarch project – an initiative run jointly by the University of York (UK), Universidad Autonoma De Barcelona (Spain), Kobenhavns Universitet (Denmark) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (France) and which focuses on archaeological chemistry, biomolecular archaeology and archaeometry.
One of the areas Chemarch is looking at is the function of stone tools – in particular whether residues on these tools can be analysed and give us a better idea of how they were used. This, however, means that our previous artefact recovery procedures had to change.
So today Sigurd donned a pair of latex gloves, to avoid contaminating the artefact, and the carefully recovered hammer stone was placed in a tin foil cocoon to further protect it. At the same time a small sample of the soil around the stone tool was taken so it can also be analysed and used as a control against which potential cross-contamination from the environment can be assessed.
A few metres away from Sigurd, Gianluca continued working on the deposit of pottery and bone mentioned yesterday.
At close of business today the jury was out as to whether these two were in some way connected or whether the bones’ position – a centimetre or so above the pottery – was purely co-incidental.
In Trench J, Ray revealed the lower courses of Structure Thirty-Two’s eastern wall.
The wall had been robbed out in prehistory – the stone carted elsewhere, presumably for re-use – and the gap left backfilled with midden.
Meanwhile, inside Structure Thirty-Two our micromorphologist Jo had her sights set on a particularly rich, black floor deposit. The current thinking is that this may represent the remnants of a small peat stack that once stood on site. Jo secured samples from the area and we await, with interest, her conclusions.
Another remarkable find came to light today while our geologist Martha was examining “foreign stones” from the site.
This particular find is much, much older than the Ness and is the only example of a fish fossil we’ve found to date.
Finally toda, we’d like to thank Nathan and his grandad, who visited the site today.
Nathan’s grandad is a regular visitor to Orkney and the Ness. He is also a runner and whenever he is out and about in his home town, he gathers any money he finds and stores it in a jar. He arrived on site today, where Nathan deposited the contents of grandad’s money jar into our donations bucket. Thank you both for your support.
See you all tomorrow…