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Monday, August 9, 2010
(Day 16)

Greetings from a less than summery Ness of Brodgar – although the rain just about held off, heavy showers made digging less than pleasant at times.

Progress still seems fast and furious (well, in a well-structured, archaeological way!).

Structure Ten revealed yet more of its secrets as more of the collapse and infill was removed. Ken, one of our American volunteers, made the discovery of a lifetime while trying to locate some of the robbed out walls in the eastern recess.

Picture ORCA
Adam Lee excavating within Structure Ten.


As he trowelled back some of the upper robbing debris, a large block of stone was slowly revealed, just as we hoped, that partially defined the north wall of the recess – but this was no ordinary stone as pecked into its surface was a number of well-defined cup marks.

As more of the stone was revealed yet more cup marks came to light – a quite splendid find – and yet more of the stone still remains hidden below deposits that lap up against its lower edge – so how many cup marks there are in total has yet to be seen.

This stone may well form one side of the long anticipated entrance into Structure Ten and so emphasizes this important area within the chamber. This would however seem to place the entrance slightly off centre, not quite what was expected.

Picture ORCA
The new multi-cup decorated stone built into Structure Ten being revealed.


In Structure Twelve, excavation continues to reveal yet more beautifully decorated Grooved Ware. As mentioned before, the wide range of decoration present may represent input to the site from many communities right across Orkney, as one might expect from such a focus of Neolithic activity. It will be interesting to see what our pottery specialist makes of it all and whether this first impression is upheld during post-excavation analysis.

Picture: ORCA
Finely decorated Grooved Ware sherd, discovered by Peter Brigham.

In Structure One, excavation is now back in full swing as the students from Orkney College return for their second module in excavation techniques. Ali Keir (a recent graduate of Orkney College) has opened up a sondage in the east wall of the structure in order to investigate a potential third entrance into the primary phase of the building (when, in plan, it resembled Structure Two at Barnhouse).

Careful removal of stones, that may have formed later intentional blocking of this entrance, has indeed revealed a third entrance, adding to the two already revealed at either end of the building – a rather unusual feature in itself and makes you wonder how this building was used. 

Dave and Gavin, the supervisors in Structure Eight, were joined by a new team to replace those who left on Friday.

Continued removal of rubble and collapse in the central area of the building has revealed yet more roofing slates like those in the side recesses. Could this mean that the whole of Structure Eight was slated?  The odd slate is also being discovered in Structure One - so could other structures on the site been likewise roofed?

What an amazing sight that would have made that again seems to emphasise the unique nature, and importance, of the site.

Picture ORCA
Clare and Alan discuss Structure Ten.


A view from the trowelling frontline…

Hello there and welcome along to the blog for today from the Ness.

My name is Simon Gray and I am a third year archaeology student at the University of Southampton. I will be talking you through various elements of the site, as well as commenting on the progress made by the team today and the objectives for the week ahead.

As my particular area of interest is the British Neolithic and, in particular, the record of the Orkney Islands there is, in my mind, no better place to be digging this summer and I feel very privileged to be part of the team and the excavations here on the Ness of Brodgar.

As well as volunteering on the site, I have been visiting and photographing various sites for use in my forthcoming dissertation, which is to be a study of the mortuary practices of Neolithic Orkney and a commentary of the inferences that can be made regarding the past Neolithic societies of the islands.

As seemingly exclusively focused on the mortuary practices as my study may seem, there will also be areas and themes I will be discussing heavily, such as the settlements of the people that used the vast array of cairns and tombs that exist, as well the religious beliefs and practices they partook in.

The Ness of Brodgar, in which case, and the evidence gathered so far this season as well as work carried out previously will be invaluable to my study and thus I feel further privileged to be a part of this thrilling and revolutionary site.

So to business. . .

Wwith the weekend passing, taking the fine weather with it, focus was once more solely back on to the site, with a large team working tirelessly throughout the day in, frankly, less-than-perfect conditions.

When the day first began, there was an element of "post-weekend administration" to be taken care of, with a variety of tasks being undertaken in order to "smooth over" the site and get it looking beautiful again.

The Ness continues to interest and draw people in and, with the, as ever, substantial and loyal coverage by the local media, such tidying and loose-end tying is an important part of the day to ensure the site is well maintained and presented for those that come to see the astounding archaeology that is being uncovered.

Work across the Ness has today run smoothly and at all times.

As always, the team are hard at work trying to unravel the mysteries of the site, its inhabitants and the traces of their culture that has been left for us to study.

Following the discovery of the whalebone macehead and flint implements on Friday afternoon, along with the constant trays full of bone and pottery, intense investigation in to these "hotspots" has been undertaken in order to try and establish their significance and context.

The work across all of the structures has been rewarded with some impressive and important finds. For example, in Structure Ten a large stone block, decorated with various sized cup marks, has been uncovered. This evidence, to my mind, further supports the theory that the site operated in some form of ritual capacity as these beautiful markings are very similar to those of the passage grave at Newgrange, in Ireland. These marks are thought to have been popular during the Neolithic and we wait to see whether or not our marks are significant to the inferred ritual activity on the site.

Taking in to consideration the respective numbers of domestic and of high status objects that are being found across the site, I am tempted to suggest that although the Ness of Brodgar appears to have been rather important ritually, religiously or spiritually; that during some phases of the site it may also have served a domestic and more "day-to-day" purpose, with perhaps a small settlement sprouting around the key site of interest. It is because the site seems to be so permanently constructed, with features such as inbuilt furniture and intense burning throughout the occupational floors of some structures, that I put this point forward (though Nick the director may disagree!).

I think, and I’m sure most will agree, that there is far more to the Ness than meets the eye.

Time and further hard work will tell.

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