You Rubble Scum

Second-to-last day for me here at the Ness o’ Brodgar, and wishing it was longer whilst at the same time longing for hearth and home and kith and kin!

For me and my trenchmate Woody it was a day of moving rock, one bucketful at a time, as we removed “rubble” from our area in order to help our trench supervisor form a clearer opinion as to what’s going on in terms of building sequence and other aspects of what we’re digging up.

The apparent rubble is a mish-mash of stones that have no clear meaning or association with any structural elements of the building. They have created a huge mess because in between them are deposits of various color, consistency, and constituency. In order to understand the history of the site we try to go down one layer at a time, but the rubble makes that rather difficult.

After removing a lot of rubble and the material that has filled in between stones, we did find the top of a rather long orthostat (slab of stone standing on edge), which usually indicates an internal division in a building. We also found an unusually long, narrow stone that’s lying on its side, as opposed to its “front” or “back” (determined by its internal grain) as it would be placed if it was used as part of a wall. I suspect it was some kind of pillar that’s now fallen sideways, but alas we haven’t time to pursue any more of these this season.

We also came down on a number of dressed slabs that may be the remains of a collapsed roof. When I think of stone roofing, I imagine modern-type small, thin pieces of slate. While out on Hoy, though, we had close-up views of Orkney buildings (still in use) that have rather larger and thicker slabs of roofing stone supported with a wooden frame and packed with clay for caulking. What we have in our area – stone slabs and deposits of a white clay – could definitely be a collapsed roof, with later material tossed in on top, either over a short term in the past, or over many years.

Tomorrow we’ll begin cleaning, photographing, and planning (drawing to scale on graph paper) everything in the area. That work will be completed next week, and the whole site will be covered with heave plastic weighted down with sandbags for next year’s team to unpack and continue researching.

Elsewhere on site, a gorgeous axe of gneiss turned up under the trowel of a student on her first dig. Below are photos of it as well as her excavation under close scrutiny of her trench supervisor and the project director and media photographers. Talk about working under pressure!

(To be fair: she could certainly abdicate the actual excavation if she wanted to; but even with such fine artifacts, this project allows the finders to bring out their material – the supervisors and directors don’t hop in at the last minute to claim the glory.)

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