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Wednesday, August 4, 2010
(Day 13)

Despite a rather mixed bag of weather today work continues apace on all fronts.

Planning across Structure Twelve is already fast approaching completion. The planning team is doing a wonderful job, while Owen Raybould, the area supervisor, catches up on paperwork and discusses future strategy and ideas with site director, Nick Card.

 

Picture ORCA
Planning around Structure Twelve.

 

Fingers crossed, the planning (an accurate plan at a scale of 1:20 based on a grid that encompasses the whole site) should be complete by tomorrow, thus allowing further excavation to recommence.

The intimacy of the walls one gains through this painstaking process sometimes brings to light features, or associations, that have not been noticed before, such as a potential entrance to Structure Twelve, on its west side.

Trench R that was opened last year over the "Lesser Wall of Brodgar" was reopened today. 

This trench had been totally backfilled at the end of last season so, as described below, meant a lot of hard physical labour to remove turf, backfill and sandbags. The promise of some of the most fabulous Neolithic stonework that lay beneath seemed to keep the team going and, by the end of the day, the wall in all its glory had been revealed.

All that is now required is a final clean up before excavation can resume in this trench. 

Although revealed to a preserved height of over 1.2 metres last year, the foundation courses were not reached. What the full surviving height will be is anyone’s guess – watch this space!

 

Picture ORCA
Miniature pot discovered by Billy.

 

Last year, a beautifully decorated miniature pot was found in Structure One. Today, a similarly sized pot, though not decorated, was also recovered by Billy, just beyond the north end of Structure Twelve.

Such an item feels so personal that it somehow seems to connect you to whoever made and owned it circa 5,000 years ago. Potential residue analysis of the interior of this pot may even reveal what it contained – perhaps pigment?

Picture: ORCA
New polished stone artefact from Structure Eight.

Two years ago, on the last day of excavation, Gavin, one of the supervisors this year in Structure Eight, found half of a stunning polished stone macehead. Today, Gavin similarly thought he had really hit the jackpot!

While excavating in Structure Eight, Gavin started to reveal a piece of polished stone that looked very similar to the type of stone that his previous macehead had been made. Was it going to be the other half?  Unfortunately not, but this is still a very special find.

Pecking marks along some of the facets of this polished stone were initially thought to be damage caused during use.

However closer examination under a microscope, by Sasha (one of our Dutch students), who just happens to be conducting research on wear patterns on polished stone artifacts, revealed a different story. The peck marks themselves had been polished, indicating that the pecking was in fact an initial part of the manufacturing process.

The stone appears to have been pecked into shape prior to polishing.  Sets of striations of varying depth and roughness across its polished surface reveal polishing had been undertaken using a variety of material.

This provides a clear insight into the processes associated with the manufacture of such items. Was this item indeed ever finished or may its incomplete form indicate that it was manufactured on site.

One theory regarding Structure Two at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement was that it was where special stone items such as maceheads were manufactured

Rubble infill continued to be removed from within Structure Eight, under the watchful eyes of supervisors Dave and Gavin.

Up to this afternoon, the history of the construction, and subsequent alterations to Structure Eight, seemed fairly straight forward, however this afternoon’s work has revealed indications of a much more complex history that is causing a major rethink!

With the removal of rubble around one of the stone piers on the west side of the structure, the base of this pier was revealed but at a much higher level than expected, as compared to the piers on the east side. A line of rough stone walling was also found, cutting across the recess that this pier partially defines and that disappears under the west wall of Structure Eight.

This underlying wall may explain the slumping noted in the west wall. The rough wall line also seems to align with what was presumed to be a later revetted wall that runs around the north end of the structure. Are we looking at an earlier sub-oval structure that underlies and that has been partially incorporated into Structure Eight?

But as more of the wall faces and basal course are revealed, are we also seeing several phases of alterations and complex rebuilds to Structure Eight itself? The noted slumping in the west wall, which creates almost a "wave" of masonry rather than a straight wall, is also accompanied by what appears to be a major slump in the middle of Structure Eight with rubble, that was thought to be collapse from the walls, disappearing into a large hollow. Does this indicate the remains of yet more structures below that the whole of Structure Eight has somehow subsided into!

Lots of unpicking to do and no doubt more rewriting to follow!

The remarkable preservation at the Ness does allow a very detailed history of each structure to be unlocked however this sometimes can cause its own problems! As hinted at yesterday, when dealing with the Neolithic, and not just its architecture, one should always expect the totally unexpected!

From the trenches…

The most important lesson I learned today was: if someone asks for volunteers to do planning, you should definitely put up your hand. Otherwise you end up in the front field charged with the task of reopening another trench.

Mattock, shovel, empty barrow. Mattock, shovel, empty barrow. Mattock, shovel, empty barrow...

 

Picture ORCA
Removing backfill to reveal the "Lesser Wall of Brodgar".

 

We have been digging down to get rid of the fill and will hopefully be able to expose the "Lesser Wall of Brodgar" by the end of the day.

I came to Orkney via Melbourne, Australia. My partner is an archaeologist and although I had been doing some fieldwork before I left (to get my "trowel licence" so to speak), it hadn’t quite prepared me for this site. A lot of people seem a little confused that you would come this far to work on your holidays. I guess we are gluttons for punishment.

But why wouldn’t you come. I’s hard, but rewarding, work, but I am trying to remember to take the odd moment to stop, look around and reflect on where I actually am: A Neolithic dig, in the shadow of the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. Wow.

What an opportunity to have such a unique and amazing experience. I have been excited by finding pieces of flint and pottery (one especially nice bit which has rim lines around it), and the odd find definitely helps with the motivation levels.

Narelle (Bella) Broadway

 

Maeshowe Alignments
A Neolithic focal point?
Stone Age art
The Great Wall of Brodgar
The Ness of Brodgar
Orkney's World Heritage Site
The Ring of Brodgar
Archaeology around the Ness of Brodgar
The Standing Stones of Stenness
The Barnhouse Settlement
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Orkney Archaeology Society