General Information
Week One
Week Two
Week Three
Week Four
Week Five
Week Six

The Team




2001 Dig Diary

Westray 2002: The Excavation Diary

Week Two


The threshold of Structure 1.

The second week begins cold, wet and windy. In Area F, it's all hands on deck as work on the seaward extension commences. This begins by taking levels over the area that will be removed; even the turf counts as an archaeological context. The levels taken, the turf is slowly removed, a process made all the more unpleasant by the harsh weather, and ultimately taking the rest of the day.

Cold and wet in FX.

A cluster of small orthostats has been found grouped quite tightly in the middle of Structure 2, possibly representing the packing of a posthole that may have held a load-bearing wooden post to support the roof of the house. In Structure 1, similar stone settings suggest that a wooden division may have preceded the surviving stone wall which forms the western end of the 'kitchen'. Other settings of orthostats (illustrated above) may be the footings for an entry threshold and a stone or wood box-like structure at the western end of the 'kitchen' in structure one. Excavation into even lower levels of the house continues.

A possible third hearth has been found close to the existing two in Structure 1. The feature is distinctively orange in colour and bounded by orthostats. It is much smaller than the two hearths already recorded, and sits against the north wall of the house.

The side-hearth.


Suzi's drain.

To the south of Structure 2, Suzi has been working on another rock-cut drain for much of the past week. When it was first found, this was thought to be a possible cellular structure of a much much earlier date. However, as it was excavated and more was revealed, it became clear that this was another rubble drain, similar in function to the corresponding one on the north side of the house. Today, Suzi has made the exciting discovery of some exceptionally preserved water-logged deposits from the bottom of the drain, including fragments of wood, and a possible human coprolite, which can later be analysed for parasites and undigested material.

A test-pit and the… other auger.

Terry and Nick are working over on the other side of the island in and around Field 71, augering for potential archaeological deposits and anthropogenic soils in the tidal inlet of the Ouse, and looking for monuments in the adjacent field and Evertaft eroding settlement. On survey, Jamie and Marcus spend the morning tying in this work to the site grid centred back at the main Quoygrew site, using a series of waypoints to traverse the isthmus with the EDM. Eroding out of the midden adjacent to Field 71, Terry and Nick also found some fragments of whale-bone, a vertebra and a rib.

"…and he piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all his rage and hate…"


Happy Graduation Day!

The view over to Papay from Field 71.

The day begins optimistically, as four team members graduate today (Anthony and Marcus get their Bachelor degrees, Jen and James Gerrard graduate from Master's level), but there is plenty to do in Area F, F-extension and out on monument survey.

Excavation of the earlier, more decayed of the two main hearths in Structure 1 has revealed that it is multi-phase, overlying another hearth on a near-identical setting and orientation. All the hearths will undergo specialist analysis for archaeo-magnetic dating later in the excavation.

In other news, today Mari Whitelaw, one of the second year supervisors, is having surgery for her wrist in Aberdeen following a cycling accident at the weekend. Good luck Mari, and get well soon! We'll be thinking of you.

Finally, on a lighter note, Fünf the lab cat has returned. Much purring in the lab all round.


The Pitcher Handle.

After a very misty start to the day, the weather brightened up a good deal by mid-morning. As the mist lifted, Area F began to produce a variety of finds. The first was an iron nail from Structure 1. Also from Structure 1, James Gerrard found a fragment of glass in the region of the internal drain. This glass appears to be relatively modern, and could conceivably place the longhouse considerably later (i.e. post-medieval) than has hitherto been supposed. However, realistically, it is more likely that the fragment is intrusive, either from backfill or subterranean rabbit activity. Another find was the handle of a ceramic medieval pitcher, found in the floor of the house in Area F.

The Pitcher Handle.

The day's most exciting find, made by Eva Sköld in Structure 1, was what appears to be an iron knife still inside its sheath. Such an object would have been a common article of dress for both men and women in the Viking and Late-Norse periods, and would have been a general cutting tool used for a variety of purposes.

Eva's Knife.
The comb fragment from last year's Flot.

Not to be outdone, the flotation tank also produced an interesting find. The flotters have been steadily working through the backlog of midden material sampled from Area G last year, and among the animal bone, Cath and Lou today came upon a fragment of decorated antler comb. On current evidence, Orkney is believed to have been devoid of deer since the Viking Age, meaning that the antler used for the comb must have been imported from Scandinavia (probably from Norway), although whether the comb arrived on the island ready-made, or whether it was carved from raw antler here is unknown. The flotters are also delighted to announce that all the coarse samples from last year have now been completed.

Meanwhile, in F-extension (henceforth: FX) much has transpired. Having removed the turf and ploughsoil earlier in the week, the FX team have encountered a variety of interesting contexts. In the north-west corner, an arrangement of stone suggests the continuation of (or addition to) the building in Structure 1. Further east, and in the south-west corner, patches of fish midden are beginning to appear. These might correspond to the late medieval layer of the eroding coastal midden, thus linking F extension to the past activity at the coast. Along the western edge, an extensive patch of clean white sand suggests a period of high wind and sand-blow. This context may later be subjected to OSL (Optically Stimulated Luminescence) dating, using material from the section. Finally, in the south-east corner, Mike is attempting to complete a section drawing of a highly localised feature, between 1 and 4mm in depth, containing discrete lenses of different material!

At the other end of the site, by the eastern edge of Section 2, Haskins has fun setting up the photo-tower scaffold in preparation for some plan view photographs of Area F.

Area F.


Archaeo-magnetism specialist Cathy Batt from Bradford University arrived early yesterday evening, and today she began examining the hearths in Area F in order to date them. The orientation of the Earth's magnetic poles is not static, and varies over time due to convection currents in the liquid layer between the core and mantle of the planet. As hearth material heats up when a fire is lit, it eventually exceeds its Curie temperature, effectively "resetting" its magnetic properties to zero. When the fire is extinguished, the hearth cools down to below its Curie temperature again, and the null magnetic orientation is re-magnetised in the direction of the dominant magnetic field in the hearth's immediate vicinity. This usually means the earth's magnetic field, but in some cases, particularly on iron-working sites, local factors can affect the result. This means that while our hearths are left in situ, the alignment of their magnetic fields can be analysed, and compared with the alignment of the Earth's present magnetic field. The offset can then be tied in to the known history of the Earth's field, allowing quite accurate dates for the last use of the hearth to be derived. Cathy takes a number of samples from each of the hearths using a variety of methods (a rock-drill is necessary for the eastern hearth of Structure 1) carefully noting its relation to present magnetic north. She is illustrated to the right preparing samples.

Lou aids Cathy Batt in the Archaeo-magnetic dating.

Tim's decorated knife hilt and tang. The square-sided steatite vessel.Meanwhile, yesterday's deluge of fascinating finds continues unabated. Tim Cornah in the robber trench in Area F produced a preserved knife tang and hilt with ring-and-dot decoration, and Eva continues to find pottery. Vicki in Structure 2 is excavating a large fragment of a square-sided steatite vessel, probably of medieval Shetland manufacture. Such vessels are generally associated with the 13th and 14th centuries, but this one could date to a later layer, having possibly been re-used a stone fill. Steatite does not occur in the Orkney Islands, and the vessel would have been imported (raw or ready-made) from Shetland or Norway.

The glass bead from Flot.Finally, the flotters got yet another pleasant surprise from last year's Area G midden material when they came upon a small bright blue decorative glass bead.

In FX, Mags and Jamie are excavating a yellow ephemeral discontinuous truncated linear feature with a pit at one end. 'Nuff sed…

Le Weekend

Field trippers enjoying the good weather at the Loch of St. Tredwell.

This weekend featured the traditional field trip to Papa Westray, the small island adjacent to Westray to the north-east. Tradition was broken, however, as the weather was uncharacteristically bright and warm, rather than misty, wet and terribly Scottish. Visits were made to the chapel of St. Tredwell's (a possible broch site), the chambered cairns on the Holm of Papay (requiring a trip in a small boat, illustrated to the right), the eroding Norse coastal midden site at the church of St. Boniface, and the Knap of Howar, the oldest domestic dwelling in western Europe (bottom left). Tea and biscuits were eaten at the well equipped shop/ youth hostel/ café. The day finished with a visit to the museum and shop at Holland Farm.

The boat over to Holm.
Terry disserts at the Knap of Howar.
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