Post-excavation – refining the stratigraphical matrix

Every year, when excavation on site is complete we move into the post-excavation analysis of all the findings – carefully cataloguing, cleaning, and re-boxing finds ready for specialist studies and analysis, and typing up endless lists of finds, photographs, plans, contexts and samples.

All this information is then used to work on the stratigraphic narrative and build up a robust story of the site, adding to and refining what we know.

Each supervisor writes up their specific area or structure utilising all their notes and recording sheets for each context (we now have c.10,000 contexts at the Ness describing in detail all the innumerable layers, features, walls, structures!) plus plans and photographs. In their reports they discuss, in great detail, how each layer relates to others – adding to the “stratigraphic matrix” for their area.

Sample Harris Matrix.

Sample Harris Matrix.

A matrix is a tool used to depict the temporal succession of archaeological contexts and thus the sequence of depositions and surfaces on a site, otherwise called a “stratigraphic sequence”.

The supervisors will also add to, and refine, the overall phasing for the structures, how they developed and changed over time. Usually this does not entail any dramatic changes to what is known or already presumed, but occasionally a spanner is thrown in the works and we require a rethink e.g. for 2019 we realised that under Structure Twelve, Structure Twenty-Four was in fact part of Structure Twenty-Eight.

Once phasing of the individual areas is complete, they then feed into the overall site sequence and we can look in more detail at the development of the site. Ongoing analysis of this bigger picture is coming together very nicely.

To give you an insight into our present thinking below is a schematic of the main trench showing how structures were replaced, altered and changed.

  • The earliest buildings (although we know there are structures under these) in light blue – mainly smaller piered structures – 17, 18, 28, 20 (?) and 36 (early incarnation of 14).
  • Main phase of piered buildings in red – 1,8,12,14, 21, 29, and 30.
  • Later alterations in yellow and construction of St 10.
  • Finally, mainly smaller structures 7, 9, 22, 26, and 34 including the remodelling of St 10 are in white.

These are fairly broad brush strokes, but it gives us a relative development of the site to further refine and weave the dynamics of Neolithic society around – a challenge!

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