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Friday, August 6, 2010
(Day 15)

It's hard to believe that it already the end of week three and that we are halfway through the dig – but what a first three weeks, and today was no exception!

Late this afternoon, Nick Card, the site director, was discussing Structure Ten with Professor Mark Edmonds, who has volunteered his services, when Roy excitedly called Nick over from Structure Eight.

Picture: ORCA
Roy discovers the whalebone macehead.

Yesterday, Roy had discovered the whale tooth in the opposite end of the recess where he was working today – could this be another unusual find?

Roy had every reason to be a little excited for there, still half covered by deposits, was a macehead, but this time not made of stone but whalebone!

A comparable one was recovered by Dr Anna Richie during her excavations at the Knap of Howar, on Papa Westray, in the 1970s.

The delicate nature of the find - several cracks were apparent and some of the surface had already decayed - meant that it had to be lifted before the weekend.

Resources were mobilised quickly – brushes, wooden spatulas, acid free tissue paper, bubble-wrap and even a fish–slice and Ann’s lunch box (just the right size to fit the macehead with suitable packing material).

Over the next hour or so, the find was gently cleaned around – but no, the macehead was found to be sitting almost directly on a well embedded stone slab.  This meant that we would be unable to lift it in a large block – but this is where the fish slice came into its own.

This tool was thin, strong and flexible enough for it to be gently slid under the object so it could be lifted free in one block.

The air was almost electric and the large tour, who were watching, fell silent as, with the aid of another thin blade, the small block containing the whalebone was slowly released from the underlying stone – also all under the scrutiny of the BBC camera team who were still filming.

Picture: ORCA
New decorated stone used to pack the standing stone outside Structure Ten.

Carefully balanced on the fish-slice the macehead was then gently maneuvered into the awaiting box on a bed of damp tissue and bubble-wrap.

A cheer and round of applause went up. Success. It will now be the job of conservators to hopefully rebuild this rare find.

Excitement, though, was not confined to Structure Eight.

In the annex/forecourt to Structure Ten, Clare has been investigating around the stump of the standing stone discovered last year to see if we could determine whether this stone predated the annex or was erected at the same time.

Various packing stones that keep the stone upright in its socket were revealed.

Careful examination of one of the packers revealed that it had been decorated with cup marks just like several of the inner wall face stones of the annex – a line of small cup marks had been pecked into its surface.

Picture ORCA
Mike and Alan reveal more of the paving around Structure Ten.


Outside of Structure Ten, Mike and Alan have been extending the trench slightly over the last couple of days. This has been done in order to reveal more of the paving around the possible junction between Structure Ten and its annex/forecourt - an important relationship that needs clarifying.

Although the paving looked fabulous before, this now extended area of extant paving looks even more impressive. Next week, however, some of this beautiful paving, after being planned, will have to be removed in order to investigate what lies below it, and the walls of Structure Ten.

Picture ORCA
Five, four, three...and action - Dan discusses Structure One with Neil Oliver.


Meanwhile, the film crew from the BBC continued filming today.

Dr Colin Richards of Manchester University paid us another visit and was interviewed for his thoughts on the site, while Dan Lee explained the subtleties of Structure One to the programme's presenter, Neil Oliver. 

The film crew leaves tomorrow but will return in a week or so to see more developments and the next exciting episode of the Ness.

From the trenches. . .

My name is Vince. I’m a student currently studying at Cardiff University, originally hailing from Montana (a state in the western half of the USA, on the Canadian border, for those who don’t know). 

As part of a four-week fieldwork module, done yearly by all students enrolled in the archaeology degree schemes, I have come to Mainland Orkney, specifically the Ness of Brodgar.

Given recent finds on the site, it is believed to be grounds for a major shift in the way Neolithic religion is viewed in the northern areas of the British Isles.

Picture ORCA
Mai, on her last day, producing another beautiful plan.


Given its location between two large lochs and the presence of a number of large and interestingly shaped structures, a sense of prominence and purpose is immediately notable upon inspection.

The stretch of land is hypothesised to be a sort of procession, or a site of sequential structures, contemporary with the theory Mike Parker Pearson has asserted about the stretch of land in southern England between Woodhenge, Durrington Walls, and Stonehenge, being the “Land of the Living” to the “Land of the Dead” respectively.

On the Ness, the presence of a lesser wall and greater wall on either side of the peninsula, which encompass several large structures, all give credence to this hypothesis.

It might be noted now that major monuments, being the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar respectively, lie on each side of the Ness of Brodgar, giving further evidence to support this hypothesis.

Additionally, several types of Neolithic art including decorated pottery, incision patterns on the stones that make up the structures, and even some evidence for painting give evidence for at the very least a place of ceremony.

Recently, some finds have been made suggesting several entranceways to each of the structures, and having been examined by a specialist, the greater percentage of the plethora of bones on site seem to be the tibia of cattle, thus inferring possible feasting here.

Some things are slightly harder to fit to this theory, or are less relevant.

The architecture of the buildings on the site raises a number of questions. Some areas of the walls of the structures measure several metres thick, which is presumably for insulation from the rather prevalent wind and changing weather rather than defence, as no weapons seem to have been found on the site.

This, however, begs the question - if this site is ceremonial in nature, why so heavily structure walls in buildings that do not seems capable (space-wise) of holding a very large number of people?  Or is it that fewer might come, but could at any time of year given the nature of the buildings?

While Mainland Orkney seems a rather difficult spot to access, people clearly travelled here, or migrated for long enough periods to construct the number of structures found in the area. 

Would these people have been the only ones to use this place or did others also travel here? 

Hopefully with time, these questions will be answered as more evidence and information is uncovered on the site.


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