Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day Eighteen

Mike reveals wall lines of earlier structures under the robbed out entrance to Structure 10.

Mike reveals wall lines of earlier structures under the robbed-out entrance to Structure Ten. (ORCA)

STOP PRESS: Mike has finally found wall lines while investigating the area of the presumed, and long anticipated, entrance to Structure Ten!

However, they are not what we expected, or hoped for, as they do not seem to relate to the entrance, but represent an earlier structure underlying Structure Ten.

The wall lines seem to correspond, in orientation, to a wall line discovered under the eastern annex to Structure Ten – possibly one of the oval structures that Nick has postulated is associated to the present Phase Two of the site.

So it seems that the wall robbing has totally removed any vestiges of the entrance to Structure Ten – such is the nature of archaeology. And back to the drawing board!

A lethal weapon!

It’s been  a day of contrasting temperatures – warm before lunchtime and freezing afterwards. A day, also, of excellent archaeology.

In Hugo’s northern corner, Tonnie found a beautiful flint arrowhead.

A finely worked chisel-ended arrowhead, displayed by its finder, Tonnie. (ORCA)

A finely worked chisel-ended arrowhead, displayed by its finder, Tonnie. (ORCA)

Toffee-brown in colour and sharply pointed, but not in the way you would expect from more-familiar arrowheads.

Hugo, who is a flint expert, identified it as a chisel arrowhead.

In other words, the broader end is the “front” of the projectile, with a little point protruding.

An arrowhead that penetrates on a broad front, like this one, would have caused a devastating wound to a hunted animal.

The breadth ensures maximum damage and perhaps even the severing of an artery. A lethal weapon, indeed.

In Structure Ten, Emily found a striking piece of haematite, an iron ore, which outcrops on Hoy.

It had clearly defined faceted surfaces, through use, and may have been used in the production of the red paints found on several of the stones on the site.

Emily displays her discovery of another piece of haematite.

Emily displays her discovery of another piece of haematite. (ORCA)

Smart Fauna

At the other side of Structure Ten, Seb is uncovering part of the bone deposit, which fills the upper levels of the passageway surrounding the building.

Seb prepares the bone layer for detailed examination in 'Smart Fauna'.

Seb prepares the bone layer for detailed examination in ‘Smart Fauna’. (ORCA)

He has removed the overburden and revealed the top of the bone layer, in preparation for further analytical work, which has been funded by a grant from the British Academy.

The project, which is called Smart Fauna, will be led by Orkney College UHI’s bone expert, Dr Ingrid Mainland.

She will examine the bone deposit in a variety of ways, by traditional planning, laser scanning recording and GPS to determine whether there is any coherent, or structured, form to the deposition of the bone.

Work she conducted last year appeared to suggest that, in some areas, the bone may have been deposited in a criss-cross pattern – very intriguing in this massive deposit of bone that may represent hundreds of cattle.

Under Structure Ten

Still in Structure Ten, Claire is closely examining the deposits under the slab which, as we described yesterday, she had to break in order to remove from her recess.

Claire gets to grips with the deposits that underlie the massive paving slab in Structure 10.

Claire gets to grips with the deposits that underlie the massive paving slab in Structure Ten. (ORCA)

She has discovered signs of another potential drain emerging from the area but, more interestingly, has uncovered what may turn out to be the leveling material used to construct the platform on which Structure Ten sits.

This is a remarkably interesting discovery as it may give important indications as to how the entire building was put together.

A regular visitor to the site is artist Rik Hammond, who is in the middle of a fascinating collaborative project involving the Archaeology Department of Orkney College UHI, The Pier Arts Centre, in Stromness, and Historic Scotland.

It forms a key element in the year-long celebrations of Scotland’s Islands and brings together art and archaeology in a unique way.

Rik will be sketching, drawing, observing and talking to the archaeologists working on the Ness and will produce new work in response to the World Heritage sites, thereby adding another interpretative layer to the way the site is recorded.

He can be found on Facebook at Symbols in a Landscape 2011/12: Orkney Art and Archaeology Artist Residency.

From the Trenches

It’s lovely being back in Orkney.

Brodgar Sunset.

Brodgar Sunset. (Sigurd Towrie)

It’s hard to beat a beautiful sunset at the Ring of Brodgar – especially when you know it’s raining further south.

It’s also a treat to have a hare in your garden at breakfast time.

This is my third year digging on the Ness of Brodgar and, as it’s such a wonderful site, I hope it won’t be my last.

So far, my trowel hasn’t uncovered any exciting finds. Last year, I was lucky enough to uncover several large pieces of decorated Neolithic pottery.  However, this time I’ve been uncovering walls.

Unfortunately, they haven’t been very well-built and there has been a lot of discussion about their relationship with the surrounding structures and the possible use of the area.

However, every time I stand on the spoil heap and empty, yet another, bucket, I always enjoy looking over the site at all the activity taking place and seeing more of the structures slowly being revealed.

We are very lucky that stone was such a plentiful and lasting building material here, so that structures built about 5,000 years ago are still standing.  The size of some of the slabs on site and the quality of the building work make one realise the teamwork involved in the construction of the site and the skill of our ancestors.

At other sites in Scotland, where I have volunteered, the presence of substantial roundhouses is initially indicated by changes to the colour of the soil.  Charred wood, lumps of burnt peat used in roofing or walling and the position of postholes may be all that remain of these, much later, large buildings.

Seeing the number on the small finds bags reach over 10,000, last week, makes me realise the amount of work that will be going on after the site has closed down for the season.  I am very lucky to be able to volunteer, one day a week, in the Department of Archaeology at the National Museum of Scotland, in Edinburgh.

There, I am mainly involved, at present, doing post-excavation work on an Iron Age site in Moray – Birnie, near Elgin.

This has given me a variety of tasks, some very interesting e.g., handling the finds, and others – well, rather boring, e.g., giving finds numbers to residues of charcoal, bone, nut shells etc., that have been sorted as a result of fine sieving and then inputing  the data into the computer.

But all the work is necessary to give a complete picture of the site and as much information as possible to archaeologists and students studying that period, and its artefacts, in the future.  Storage of all the finds will also be a problem, especially as large amounts of decorated and incised stones have been removed from the site.  There will certainly be a wonderful range of objects available for display to the public in years to come.

As usual, Orkney’s weather is variable and never quite seems to be in line with any forecast –  especially the national one!

Fortunately, it doesn’t stop the huge number of visitors to the site for the excellent morning and afternoon tours.  As I type this, the international team of diggers is working away and it’s time to rejoin them.  It has been lovely to meet up with old friends and to meet new people in the trenches.

Christine Yuill  (Edinburgh)