Rare bone pins, rarer wood and an enigmatic annexe from above

Diary – Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Day Thirteen

2019: Trench T, with Structure Twenty-Seven in the foreground. (Jo Bourne)

Kim with her star find, the stone ball.

2011: Kim with the stone ball from Structure Eleven. (ORCA)

The first week of the 2011 excavation season ended on July 22, with the discovery of a stone ball – not the carved version, of which we have one, but a rock that has been carefully ground into a near perfect sphere.

This one, made from a fine-grained, soft pink igneous rock, was found in a small recess built into the wall of Structure Eleven – a later building between Structures One and Eight.

Monday, July 22, 2013, saw excavation work resume after a weekend contemplating the incised pot rim found above the bone deposit outside Structure Ten.

Dr Ann MacSween, an acknowledged expert on prehistoric pottery,  had been digging on site the previous week and upon returning home consulted her records and concluded the pottery was early Bronze Age.

This, together with the barbed and tanged arrowhead found in the same context, added weight to the theory that the end of Structure Ten is related to the advent of the Bronze Age.

2014: Jenny with the bead from the central midden area. (ORCA)

Six years ago today, two worked stone beads emerged – one from a midden baulk in Structure Eight, the other from the central midden area. Both were very similar to beads found in the central midden area in 2013.

Meanwhile, in Trench T, a polished stone axe was found at the base of a new sondage.

On Wednesday, July 22, 2015, a large dump of ashy material was removed from the south end of Structure Eight. Suspicions it concealed another hearth were proved correct.

Dr Ingrid Mainland, of the Archaeology Institute UHI, examined the continuation of the bone spread around Structure Ten. It was noted that the concentration of bone outside the end wall appeared more concentrated than in other areas towards the rear of Structure Ten.

“A day of discoveries” was how Friday, July 22, 2016, was described in the daily diary.

2016: The new sherds of the ‘stitched’ pot, next to the bone spread in Structure Ten. (ORCA)

In 2014, we uncovered a number of sherds from a pot with a vertical “stitching” motif on the exterior surface. This was interpreted as a clay imitation of a leather vessel.

In 2016, some sherds were spotted while working on the Structure Ten bone spread that were suspected might be some of the missing parts of the original pot – which had included a neonatal calf bone.

After the sherds were uncovered and clean it was confirmed they were the remaining parts of the original.

2016: The bone pin from the stone-robbing trench in Structure Ten.

Elsewhere in Structure Ten, a large worked bone pin was recovered from the infill of the building’s robber cut. These are a rarity at the Ness, where soil conditions mean bone objects rarely survive.

Structure Ten also produced another first for the Ness on this day – a fragment of wood.

Although little more than a smear, it was an important discovery and one that gave us hope that other wood fragments might still survive.

Jumping ahead to 2019 (this day in 2017 and 2018 were on weekends) all eyes were on Structure Twenty-Seven.

2019: The decorated orthostat in Structure Twenty-Seven (at the rear of the photo). (Jo Bourne)

The decorated orthostat in the north-eastern corner of the building was being carefully recorded and the creation of 3D model under way. The midden near the orthostat was cleared away and revealed another, parallel to the first and extending out into the interior of the Structure Twenty-Seven.

This was suggested to be a division in a side recess – a feature seen in other structures – and its discovery suggested Structure Twenty-Seven was once “an absolute sea of orthostats.”


In the two Trench T extensions, excavators were encountering rubble dumps that may relate to the Iron Age activities already noted in the area.

In the annexe outside the eastern entrance to Structure Twelve the removal of bone – seemingly mostly of large cattle – and pottery spreads continued (see below).

We talked about the rarity of bone objects above and last year another emerged from Structure Eight.

The worked bone – probably the shaft of a polished pin – seemed strange because it was very dark in colour. Whether it had been treated with some substance during its life or whether the colour was the result of post depositional processes remained to be seen.

2019: A rarity for the Ness – worked bone. In this case, probably a pin. (Sigurd Towrie)

2019: A magnified view of the head of the suspected bone pin. (Jo Bourne)

The annexe between Structures Twelve and Twenty-Six, as recorded by Professor Scott Pike on July 22, 2019.

Click on the images for a larger version.

A closer view of the annexe interior, showing the massive spread of bone and pottery. The wall of Structure Twenty-Six is at the top of the image. (Scott Pike)

Taken from a higher altitude, the entrance to Structure Twelve (flanked by a pair of standing stones) is to the left and Structure Twenty-Six to the top right. (Scott Pike)

Higher still, with Structure Twelve to the left, Structure Twenty-Six right and Structure Thirty at the bottom. (Scott Pike)

You may also like...