Structures Seventeen and Eighteen

One of the most commonly asked questions by visitors to the excavation is about the the structure numbers – how they are allocated and what do they represent?

The answer is quite simple. The numbers generally represent the order in which the buildings were encountered. So the first discovered on site, back in 2003, was Structure One and the most recent, from 2018, was Structure Thirty-Four.

On saying that, some of the numbers are allocated during the post-excavation process when enough evidence points to a previously-excavated feature, or features, as representing individual structures. Since Structure Thirty-Four was “named” we’ve added another four structures – three of which pre-date the discovery of Thirty-Four – bringing the total to 38.

Stand at Trench P and you will clearly see Structures One, Eight, Ten, Twelve, Fourteen and Twenty-Six. So where are the others? Not all structures are complete – Structure Thirty-Four, for example, is represented by a single wall section – and others are only partly exposed and excavated.

Details of the main buildings can already be found on the website, so between now and the resumption of excavation, we’ll outline what is known about some of the others – beginning here with Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

The earliest phase of activity so far uncovered in Trench P, showing the location of Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

The earliest phase of activity so far uncovered in Trench P, showing the location of Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

Structure Seventeen

Structure Seventeen is one of two buildings that pre-date and lie beneath Structure Eight.

Measuring approximately 12 metres long by nine metres wide, Seventeen is under the southern half of Structure Eight and roughly follows the latter’s north-east to south-west orientation.

With corner buttresses and a single pair of stone piers dividing the interior in two, the building is similar in layout to Structure One at the Ness and House Two at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement.

The relationship between Structure Eight and its predecessors, Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

The relationship between Structure Eight and its predecessors, Structures Seventeen and Eighteen.

Each of its two sections probably had a stone hearth, although at present only the southern one has been partially exposed. The side and end recesses may also have been partitioned off using stone orthostats.

Tiles found in one of these side recesses suggests Structure Seventeen, like the later buildings, had a stone roof.

As with any structure that has been almost completely dismantled and subsequently built on, there is much we don’t know about Structure Seventeen.

A curving wall face of Structure Seventeen visible within Structure Eight. (Sigurd Towrie)

The location of the entrance, for example, is not clear, although it was probably in the eastern side wall in an area obliterated during the construction of Structure Ten around 2900BC.

As for dates for Structure Seventeen, at present we can only say it pre-dates Structure Eight, which was constructed around 3200BC.

That said, given the similarities between Seventeen and the neighbouring Structure One, it might not have pre-dated its successor by much.

Structure Eighteen

Chris exposing the possible wall of Structure Eighteen now visible in/coming through Structure Eight. (Jo Bourne)

The outlines of Structures Seventeen (bottom) and Eighteen overlaid on Structure Eight.

The outlines of Structures Seventeen (bottom) and Eighteen overlaid on Structure Eight.

A short distance to the north-east of Structure Seventeen, and almost at right angles to it, is Structure Eighteen. The two are almost identical in layout and size and both shared a paved pathway, suggesting they were contemporary.

Structure Eight also overlies Structure Eighteen, which is not as well-preserved as its neighbour. Sections peek through the later building, notably the pier central piers under Eight’s northern hearth and entrance forecourt. Wall sections also poked through the floor and into the north-western recess.

Something similar was noted in Structure Twelve and suggests there were raised, perhaps wooden, platforms within the recesses.

Of all the structures excavated so far Structure Eighteen is the only one that incorporated yellow clay within its walls. Clay is a common floor surface in Neolithic buildings but in Structure Eighteen was also was placed between each course of masonry.

The construction of Structure Eight saw the end buttresses of Eighteen incorporated into its northern end. The result was an entrance forecourt flanked by projecting “horns” that can still be seen today.

2019: Aerial view. (Scott Pike)

Aerial view of Structure Eight with its “horned” forecourt visible to the right of the picture. (Scott Pike)

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