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Thursday, July 29, 2010
(Day 9)

Mystery object number two

Picture ORCA
Mystery object number two.


The slab that defines one of the recesses in Structure Eight, separating it from the main internal space, has had two large notches created in its lower edge – presumably not prehistoric cat flaps – any suggestions?

Although the space behind them is presently filled with collapse and infill, while in use these holes would have been open to the interior.

After all the excitement and wondrous discoveries of the last few days, today, by comparison, was rather quiet, with planning taking place in both Structures One and Eight and major cleaning for photography of Structure Twelve.

The team in Structure Eight, however, did reveal potential floor/occupation layers in one of the recesses (the one with the two holes).

At the start of this season, one of the objectives was to reach floor deposits by the end of the season, so achieving this in less than two weeks shows the excellent progress that is being made.

Picture ORCA
Roy excavating a large, rounded, stone pebble in Structure Eight, which
may be assocaited with some animal and human bone.


Meanwhile, in the recess opposite this one, while cleaning down to the potential "roofing" horizon, Roy has discovered a large, rounded, quartz pebble. This is close to some bone, some animal but also possibly a much degraded human arm bone – this is being looked at tonight by a bone specialist to determine whether it is human or not.

In Structure Ten, the hearth discovered yesterday is as yet not much clearer today, as more deposits around it have to be removed before it is revealed in its undoubted full glory.

Although the discovery of a hearth in Structure Ten may make you think of a domestic context - not the "temple" we have been labeling Structure Ten - remember that in the centre of the Standing Stones of Stenness (definitely not domestic!) there is also a large hearth – hearths were very central to the Neolithic people, not only as a source of heat and light but also had a great symbolism.

Picture ORCA
Jan contemplates the best strategy for revealing more of the hearth within Structure Ten.


Often orientated on the cardinal points of the compass, the hearth seems to have had numerous, less-tangible functions – for instance, as a ritual purifier - as suggested for the hearth in the entrance to Structure Eight at the nearby Barnhouse Settlement and a potential hearth situated in the main entrance to the Stones of Stenness.

So, the hearth in Structure Ten may have been more symbolic than utilitarian.

Could it be that, although displaying domestic features like the hearth and the so called "dresser" (altar?), Structure Ten, with all its other idiosyncrasies (the five-metre thick walls; its "artwork"; the use of red and yellow sandstone; the incorporation of standing stones in its build; its orientation on Maeshowe; and its monumental size – to mention but a few) was not designed to be the "home" of a mortal or living, but was rather the abode of something more spiritual?

Picture: ORCA
Lopsided arrowhead.

Also included today is a photograph of a very fine flint ‘arrowhead’ discovered in the first week by Peter, one of the Hull University students.

This style, for obvious reasons, is called "lopsided".  The flint is of good quality, like many of the pieces from the Ness.  Recently, Torben Ballin, a lithics specialist, kindly undertook a quick overall assessment of many of the pieces found on the Ness, specifically looking for non-local flint.

He concluded that many pieces, especially the more impressive and well-executed pieces, were made of flint from Yorkshire! So, just as we are finding pitchstone (a volcanic glass like obsidian) that originated on Arran, down the west coast of Scotland, the Ness also attracted items coming up the east coast of Britain – a veritable prehistoric crossroads!

From the trenches . . .

Picture ORCA
Cormac excavating part of the secondary curved wall of Structure One.


My name is Cormac Grogan and I’m here on the Ness of Brodgar excavation as part of my MSc in shallow geophysics, which I am currently undertaking at Orkney College.

Before I arrived on site, I had already heard so much about the site from previous students, academics and lecturers at Orkney College. As Neolithic sites go, the Ness of Brodgar is by far one of the most awe-inspiring complexes of archaeology ever discovered in Orkney and Britain as a whole.

Coming close to the end of week two, it is all the more apparent how humbling it is to be part of such an enigmatic feature of Orcadian archaeology.

For the last two weeks, I have had the privilege of digging in Structure One. What struck me the most about this building was the quality of the masonry. The quality of its laying and finishing resembles the types of masonry found in buildings up into the 19th century.

This morning I arrived on site and immediately got out my notebook as, on the previous day, the rest of the students in Structure One had discovered four new contexts. This goes to show how much can change and be uncovered in just one day of excavation here on the Ness of Brodgar.

Owain was in charge of planning the heart of Structure One and Christopher was busy with new context sheets, so I was assigned the job of defining the outer blockage to the north-west of Structure One.

I cleaned off the wall head to reveal the midden core of the north wall and then set about removing the fill of what we believe is a robber trench and cut. This trench may be associated with the later sub-circular structure contained within the heart of Structure One.

Prior to excavating out this fill, I was subtly aware of this blocking wall, but during the excavation I now see the abruptness of its addition to the very organized wall structure which preceded it.  After break, I continued my excavation of the fill, uncovering large chunks of unburnt and burnt animal bone, as I attempt to find the floor surface beneath the fill.

Picture ORCA
Gavin investigating and recording the early 20th century 'excavations' in Structure Eight.


I took a working photo of the excavation as I am on the verge of removing large stones from the fill. As the day progresses, I hope to gain an understanding of the robber trench and how it fits in with the overall construction of Structure One.

What I have found to be most important about excavating on such a complex site, is that you have to take time to stand back and look at the overall progress of the site as a whole.

It can be all too easy to become lost in the fascination of your own structure and with so much going on, it is enlightening to take ten minutes to just scout the site and thus gain a greater understanding of the Ness of Brodgar as a whole.

With one day to go here before I leave the site, I am excited about what tomorrow may bring for both me and Orcadian archaeology as a whole. With the discovery of painting and rock art on the site, it is only a matter of time before another truly jaw dropping find is uncovered.

Cormac Grogan
MSc Shallow Geophysics
Orkney College


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