Zigzag painted stone

In last few minutes of excavation today, another painted stone has turned up in Structure Eight, but this time the “paint” seems to form a more coherent pattern – a zigzag or chevron of red pigment!!!

The new painted stone from Structure Eight.

The start of a new digging week and all change. Many of the team who had to leave at the end of last week have now been replaced with students from Cardiff, London and Southampton and volunteers from as far afield as America and Australia. All seem to be settling in well and enjoying the experience as, once again, we are blessed with warm and dry weather.

We were honoured today visits to the site by Professor Mark Edmonds, Dr Jane Downes and Dr Colin Richards – all of whom had their own thoughts and theories regarding the site – some of which may need to time to digest and fully consider!

Dave and Annick recording the section in Structure Eight.

Also on site was Dr Ingrid Mainland one of the foremost environmental archaeologists, who specializes in animal bone. Ingrid is presently based in the archaeology department in Orkney College and has very kindly undertaken an initial assessment of the bone assemblage from the site.

We therefore asked her to come and excavate part of the large bone spread that fills the upper portion of the paved “passage” surrounding Structure Ten for herself to see if seeing the bone in situ would alter or add to this analysis. A slow and painstaking job as much of the bone is in fairly bad condition.

As the initial analysis has suggested already, the bone exposed today seems to point to a very high percentage of mainly cattle bone, particularly tibia bones, and a smattering of red deer. Unusual in itself and perhaps indicative of a major feasting event associated with the “decommissioning” of Structure Ten.

Around Structure Twelve, yet more exquisitely decorated pot has been revealed, with incised and applied decoration, and a host of other lovely finds.

For those who have not excavated such a plethora of finds before it must seem like a dream come true – I can remember my first few digs, when the discovery of even the smallest fragment of pot seemed so exciting, but here we are recovering some very large slabs of decorated pot on a daily basis!

Christine contemplates the best method for retrieving some large sherds of pot.

In Structure Eight, Gavin has finally removed the last vestiges of the early 20th century investigations on the Ness.

As more of this hole has been revealed the more it seems to correspond to the description provided by the discoverers of the original Brodgar Stone in 1925 – the series of conjoined cists they described though is a misinterpretation of some of the orthostatic stone features/furniture we have revealed as part of Structure Eight – an easy mistake for them to have made in light of the limited area they must have investigated.

The 1925 Brodgar Stone (Picture: Orkney Library Photographic Archive)

Thankfully, though, they do not seem to have damaged any crucial relations within the stratigraphy of the trench.

Gavin clears the last vestiges of the early 20th century investigations in Structure Eight.

On Saturday, a conservator (kindly provided by Historic Scotland) visited site to advise on the painted stones. In general, our initial “first-aid” treatment in trying to keep them in an environment similar to which they were found and in darkness seems to have been correct.

In conjunction with other conservation bodies, we have also been advised on how to very gently clean them; perhaps enhance their appearance through the use of ultraviolet light; and sampling them for pigment analysis.

From the trenches…

Hi, my name is Melissa and I am a junior at the City University of New York, majoring in archaeology. I came to Orkney for the NABO field school on Rousay and decided to stay for the incredible opportunity to participate in this excavation at the Ness of Brodgar. I must admit I was shocked and honored to be allowed to participate in an excavation of this magnitude and importance.

The structures here are immense, with unbelievable preservation. Some of the walls remain intact to over a metre in height, with two buildings containing actual painted stones as well as multiple stones decorated with pecking or incision.

The entire “temple complex” is surrounded by the enormous “Great Wall of Brodgar” and is sitting between the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness. Structure Ten even has a standing stone in front of it that once had a hole drilled through it, making it somewhat of a sister to the Odin stone. That stone lines up with Maeshowe, in the distance.

Although it has been nearly 5,000 years since these buildings were used, all of these elements combine to make it so that one can hardly help but to “see” the people that used them and their magic-infused lives.

I have been completely thrilled with every day I have dug here on the Ness. It seems not one day can go by without a ground-breaking discovery. I was especially intrigued by our discovery of stone roofing in Structure Eight. In fact, while documenting, and removing, those stones, I had what I think was one of the highlights of my life in discovering a polished stone axe head. I have also helped in Structures Ten, Twelve and One. In those areas, I was lucky enough to uncover two scrapers (one of flint, the other of quartz) as well as multiple fragments of bone and pottery.

The masonry here is incredible. It seems that many of the stones were painstakingly chosen for their beauty and follow a patterning of red, yellow, and then black. It is awe-inspiring to imagine the skill involved in creating structures that would last for 5,000 years in such great condition.

Today, I worked under Dan’s supervision doing a bit of leveling in Structure Eight, alongside my great friend, Andy. We also worked removing a layer of clay set against an outer wall of the structure.

The wall divides the larger, original structure into a smaller section; the purpose of which is somewhat of a mystery. As we go further down this week, our hope is to get to the “living floor” and be able to better analyze the layout of the building as well as possibly divine its purpose.

Also today, the team has been extending the trench for Structure Twelve, as well as peeling back new layers in Structures Eight and Ten. The excavation here has so much yet to reveal, I can hardly imagine what the coming weeks will hold, no less the future digging seasons.