Pots and Spatulas

Shelley arrived Tuesday, so I worked only up until tea break in the morning, in order to get over to Kirkwall via bus to meet her at the airport. We caught a taxi back to town, then a bus to Stromness. We got her settled in and oriented, then I caught a bus back to the site and arrived at afternoon tea break, finishing the day with removal of the balk in the central midden area.

Wednesday passed uneventfully with balk removal. My discoveries included only a couple flint flakes and a few deposits of rotten pottery. Near the site, however, a local potter and at least one American student set up an experimental kiln. They built a circle of turfs with three stone-lined air intakes at the base, about two feet high. Inside they piled kindling and pots and cow bones. They lit that, got the fire going, and then piled grass into a large mound over the whole thing.

And boy, did that thing stink! Smoke wafted over us all afternoon, and the smell of the burning bone really put us off wanting any BBQ for dinner. Hopefully their efforts will result in some useful data. They have various sensors and indicators inside the kiln to make measurements of heat so that they can learn from the process.

Today – all day – we had to endure the lingering odor from the experimental kiln. When we arrived on site, all the material in and over the kiln had burned to ashes, leaving only the fired pots inside, and some burned bone bits. One of the very large pots had cracked badly, but the rest looked good to me. I didn’t get a chance to speak with the potter to learn what he found out with this firing.

Despite the foul air, the day proved productive. We completed removal of the balk, and found some stones beneath it that appear to be significant in terms of defining some of the wall or pier structures in the area. These findings work against the expectations of the trench supervisor, who’s now not as sure what’s going on activity-wise in our area. Later work turned up an area of burning, apparently in situ (i.e., not dumped burned material), and this is causing the trench supervisor even worse problems in terms of interpretation of what was going on here.

After the balk removal, I was assigned an area to clean (scrape with a trowel to remove traces of people trodding in the area and get rid dried soil to bring fresh colors to light). A few minutes of scraping later, out popped my first stone tool! It’s a nice one, to be sure, and warranted its own photos as it was found. What is it? Some kind of spatula (see photo below). Of course its exact purpose cannot be known, but it was probably used for grinding something, given the wear and chipping on its rounded “front” end.

Elsewhere on site, causing great excitement, others found a large, oblong quern stone, which had its worn, polished basin situated within a rather uneven base stone – it does not sit level on its own. Also, a rough stone ball came up. Polished stone balls are exceptional Neolithic finds and everyone hopes that one will eventually turn up somewhere on the site. I believe the rough one is unique here so far. (My stone spatula is not the first for the site although it may be the first for this season.)

Tomorrow we’ll probably work toward determining what the burned deposits mean and removing a lot of rubble in the area to get a better idea of what’s going on with the stones underneath it. The weather is expected to be dry and overcast as it has been for the past two days, with the occasional light shower passing through.



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