The first suggestion of Iron Age remodelling of Trench T mound
Dig Diary – Thursday, July 30, 2020
July 30, 2012, saw some intense thinking about the site by site director Nick.
Building on the detailed stratigraphic by the site supervisors, was beginning to think that the development of the Ness was more organic and fluid than understood previously. Instead of single, massive events, he suspected there were piecemeal and discrete activities taking place – something that made sense in light of the sequential episodes of deposition, instead of single dumping events, being noted across the site.
In 2013, some unusual examples of pottery were unearthed in the midden areas around Structure Twelve. The large sherds were decorated with multiple applied cordons and unlike anything seen on site previously.
Initially, it was thought the two fragments belonged to same artefact, but closer examination revealed that, although very similar geologically, they came from two different maceheads!
There was a major revelation about Trench T on this day six years ago.
At the time, we had the massive midden mound – which was definitely Neolithic – as well as two parallel revetment walls.
It was noted that these revetments seemed to be on either side of a ditch cut into the slope of the mound and were reminiscent of Iron Age features known elsewhere in Orkney. This would make the rubble “collar” between them ditch fill.
This made perfect sense considering the iron fragments found, in 2013, in a stone robbing pit high in the rubble on the other side of the trench.
The new theory was that we had the remodelling of the midden mound in the Iron Age – something confirmed by later radiocarbon dates.
In Trench P, excavation in the accessible remains of Structure Twenty-One – which geophysics suggested continued underground beneath the trench spoil heap – confirmed that it was typical of the other piered structures clustering around Structure One.
Meanwhile, Structure Twelve’s north-eastern side recess was found to contain a stone-built “box”, around which were numerous cobble stones.
Some of these had been partially worked. One in particular looked like a roughout for the stone cubes with concave and flat sides already been found on site (pictured right).
These were been interpreted as small working platforms which could be held between the knees – the knees fitting neatly into the concave sides.
Regular diary readers will have seen these mentioned before, but for this day in 2015 we return to the joys of Trench T’s mysterious pits.
At that point in time 20 had been found, dug into the deep deposits of midden and ash.
Although pits are a feature of many Neolithic sites and often contain deposits, perhaps commemorating an event such as the closing down of a structure. The Trench T pits, however, contained nothing.
The pits had been dug into the midden and then filled in again with midden. They were not left open for long, but why dig out midden and then refill the resulting hole with midden?
It was suggested that the pits may have been opened to search for a specific type or quality of midden deeper down in the deposits. Having dug out the deeper midden, they then backfilled with the material from higher up.
Was the deeper midden somehow more important? Perhaps more fertile or maybe even a more interesting, richer colour than that nearer the surface?
Whatever the reasons for this process, it was clear that the Ness people in the Neolithic were very interested in their midden.
It was not just agricultural soil, or even just very fertile agricultural soil, but perhaps represented and indicated the wealth and success of those who owned and curated it. Possibly a a source of pride and a visible reminder of how significant the site was?
On this day in 2018, Trench T was extended – very slightly!
The remnants of the accursed pits (yes – even three years on) had been dealt with and the new trench addition measured little more than half of a square metre.
It targeted an orthostat that seemed to be on the same alignment as one further down the trench and may related to Structure Twenty-Seven.
In Trench Y, the hunt for the elusive connecting wall continued with another trench extension. On July 30, 2018, there were still hopes the wall would turn up with hints of basal coursing beginning to appear.
Unfortunately, as long-term readers will know, it didn’t.
A day after the discovery of 2019’s mega-drain, another drain was revealed at the south end of Structure Twenty-Seven. It ran out beneath the wall and undoubtedly joins a second drain running parallel the building’s south-eastern side.
Elsewhere in Structure Twenty-Seven, a possible second, blocked-up entrance was found in the north-western side. Whether it was an original entrance or a secondary addition will require further excavation.