The ‘Brodgar Boy’ emerges … but what was it?

Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Day Seventeen

The "Brodgar Boy" found at the 2011 excavations on the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney.

2011: The ‘Brodgar Boy’. (Sigurd Towrie)

On this day in 2011, the “Brodgar Boy” emerged from Structure Fourteen.

The small clay “figurine” was about only 30mm (1.18in) high but seemed to display a head, body and two eyes. One end of the object was clearly broken.

The other section turned up later in the season, not far from the first. The two parts fitted perfectly but what it was remains a mystery. There was very little wear on it and its tapering, segmented form was suggested could represent a pendant.

It may be that after the original object broke “eyes” were added to create the small figurine.

2011: The complete 'Brodgar Boy' clay object from Structure Fourteen. (ORCA)

2011: The complete ‘Brodgar Boy’ clay object from Structure Fourteen. (ORCA)

Inside Structure Ten, the first evidence of the pigment production area – the “paintshop” – was revealed.

Scott analysising the pigments in Structure 10.

2011: Scott analysing the pigments in Structure Ten. (ORCA)

Gathered together, in a discrete area, were examples of red and yellow ochre; stones with a depression in their centre, like little grinding dishes, and a small, stone rubber.

The discovery added considerable weight to the theory that the essential ingredients of the pigment used at the Ness was manufactured on site.

2015: Miles with the Structure Ten polished stone axe. (ORCA)

Because of weekends, we look next at 2015, where work in the Central Midden Area had revealed large spreads of rubble associated with the demolition of the south end of Structure Eight and the construction of Structure Ten.

But it was what wasn’t revealed – in particular Structure Twenty-Three – that was being pondered, with some debate as to whether it existed or not.

2015: Hugo and Mike with the red, dressed sandstone block from the robber trench on the south side of Structure Ten. (ORCA)

With the benefit of hindsight, we can now categorically state that it does. Represented solely by a few wall lines between Structures Twelve, Eight and Ten, Structure  – all of which it pre-dates – Structure Twenty-Three is contemporary with Structure Twenty-Eight, an earlier incarnation of Structure Twelve.

Structure Ten produced two significant finds – a polished stone axe from the robber cut on the south side of the building and a large, red sandstone block.

The axe, made of hornblende gneiss with biotite, seemed to be another example of stone robbers casting objects into their backfill after the task of removing stone had been complete. The sandstone was suspected to be part of a “dresser” within the building or part of the original inner wall face.

2016: The banded rosette decoration on Structure Eight. (ORCA)

This day in 2016 saw another rock art design added to the Ness repertoire.

Rain had removed a deposit that butted the lowest course of the Structure Eight revetment wall revealing a new panel of art – double curved lines arcing over a rosette of small cup marks.

Although other “rosettes” have been discovered on site this combination was a first for us.

Meanwhile, a distinguished visitor to the site was able add some details to the human arm bone found in Structure Ten earlier in the 2016 season.

Professor Andrew Chamberlain, an osteologist of Manchester University, confirmed the humerus was from an adult who was probably quite tall.

The person’s build was gracile, or relatively slender, but large muscle attachments were visible on the bone indicating an active life. There were also some signs of arthritis in the area where the bone would have met the shoulder indicating, not just an active life, but a hard one.

2016: A close-up of the broken pillow stone from Trench X. (ORCA)

The discovery of a macehead in Trench X the previous day was followed, less than a metre away, by a pillow stone on July 28, 2016.

Pillow stones are a type of artefact unique to the Ness and the new one was a fine example of highly polished Lewiston Gneiss, with very fine banding and areas of pinky quartz with gold biotite. We’re not sure what these stones were for, but one suggestion is that they were used by leatherworkers to shape and polish leather articles.

The fact that it is damaged suggests that it was re-used for a more heavy-duty activity.

And that, dear reader, is it for today. There was no excavation diary on this day in 2017 and July 28, 2018 and 2019 fell on a weekend, when all us diggers were resting our weary bones.

Until tomorrow…

July 28, 2016: Buckets and tyres beside Trench T. (Karen Wallis)

July 28, 2016: Buckets and tyres beside Trench T. (Karen Wallis)

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