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 Three


Another week begins, and another team member gets settled in. Steve Ashby is about to begin work on a PhD looking at antler from Scotland and the Danelaw in terms of ethnic identity. He will be supervising the small finds from the site for the remainder of the season.

Lennard's Quernstone

After a site Progress Report first thing, Jamie and Marcus spent the morning performing topographic and monument survey in the fields near to the site. In Area F, Lennard found a fragment of a stone quern in the fill where the internal orthostat divisions sat in Structure 2. Such quernstones would have been used to grind grain into flour. Nearby, Lennard's team have come down onto what appears to be a white ash floor.

In the middle of Area F, Jimbo suspects that the later hearth in Structure 1 may in fact overlay yet another, earlier hearth…

Working further West, Mike has been excavating another part of the robber trench, and seems to have picked up another section of the drain running through the house. In FX, promising progress has been made as two patches of stonework lining up with the walls of Structure 1 were uncovered.

Mike picks up the drain.

Jen and the lab team were suitably elated at having completed the last of the samples remaining from last year's excavation.


At the start of the day, the excavation took delivery of two long-awaited arrivals: a new Dutch auger, for landscape survey, and a Fluxgate Gradiometer, for magnetometry geophysics. Terry, Nick, Lou and Laura Murray, headed off to Field 71 with the auger and Jamie, Leslie, and James Ratcliffe on survey, while Marcus, Matt, Tom and Ken had fun playing with the (remarkably well-behaved) gradiometer in the thistles around Monument 15. Terry managed to find a new structure in Field 71 that had not been noticed in prior fieldwalking due to its proximity to a large, fierce-looking patch of nettles.

It's been an exciting day on site for all areas of excavation, not least FX, ruled by the iron fist of Mags. The area of white sand that was thought to represent a stormy sand-blow event can now be discerned as two discrete blobs, close together. It now seems more likely that these are cultural deposits rather than the result of some more benign natural phenomena, but what could have caused them remains a mystery with many possible explanations. The shelly midden dump deposits in the north-west corner remain, and it seems that a good day has been had by all in FX.

A longjump-pit in FX?
"'X' raisti stain þinsi eftir 'Y' bruþur sin…"

Further east in Structure 1, Jimbo has also had a fun-packed day. Sampling of the floor layers in the eastern end continues from previous days, but the lintel stones overlying the drain which runs through the house have been removed. This caused a brief period of excitement when it was noticed that one of the lintels had "writing" on the underside. However, hopes of Viking-Age runes were dashed when it was discovered that the "inscription" was an inked-on context number and North-Arrow from the 1999 season of excavation!

The removal of the drain lintels reveals the backfill of the drain itself. Jimbo's discovery of what appears to be the original drain cut running through the adjacent floor layers means that the stratigraphic position of the drain will have to be re-thought. Hitherto, it was supposed that the drain was primary, part of the original house when Structure 1 was first built. It now seems that it post-dates not only the floor-layers (which it cuts), but at least some of the hearths as well. It is most likely that it was built to serve Structure 2, where it terminates, and may thus be broadly contemporary with its construction. Further excavation around the door at the west end of Structure 1 has shown that the floor layer cut by the drain continues under the secondary cross-wall, suggesting that it is earlier than was hitherto assumed, and meaning that this stretch of wall will shortly be removed to reveal earlier phases. The door itself may have been aligned with the drain, rather than vice-versa, presumably in order to both use the stone flags of the lintels as a thoroughfare, and to grant maintainence access to the drain.

The drain revealed.
Haskins in his ashy pit.

To the north of Structure 1, Haskins has found a charcoal-filled pit of Unknown Origin after an extended period of excavation, while to the south of the area, Suzi continues to find waterlogged deposits in her rock-cut drain, today producing a piece of wood.

In Structure 2, Lennard and Laura Bolan have uncovered a circular, ash-filled pit feature, possibly a round hearth, but more likely something completely different. There may well be another, similar feature a little further north… In the south-west part of the structure, Lennard has reached the very earliest layers of the house, coming down onto a series of large slabs of flat stone. This area is turning up large amounts of pottery, some fish bone, and today, a piece of metalwork. Also in the south-west, what appears to be a run-off drain, feeding into Suzi's rock-cut soakaway, has been uncovered.

A mysterious metal object from Structure 2.

Towards the end of the day, there were two more arrivals on site, in the form of Kate Keys and Geoff Birchenall. Both from Birmingham, this pair will begin Masters courses at the University of York in the Autumn, Kate in Field Archaeology, and Geoff in Zooarchaeology. They will be lending a hand on the excavation for the next two or three weeks.


Sectioning the sand in FX.

After a minor drama at the start of the day when Marcus forgot his dongle (for which he was justly teased), work on site and at Evertaft in Field 71 continued much as usual. Mags (still on a high from the previous day's excitement) and her swarthy band began to tackle their sandy blob features in FX with gusto, first sectioning and then removing them altogether. While neither feature had any significant inclusions, the larger of the two was divided by a thin lens of darker material.

Orthostats possibly representing a post setting.

In Structure 2, Lennard and Laura Bolan continue to work on the earliest phase of the building, Lennard on the large flagstones, and Laura to the north on the white ash/clay floor. A tight ring of orthostats near the centre of the room suggests the possible remains of a post setting. At the entrance to the west, Lennard seems to have found the end of Jimbo's Structure 1 drain.

The entrance to Structure 2, overlying the end of the drain.

In Structure 1, Jimbo and his team are still hard at work dealing with central hearths, drains, and peripheral soakaways and ashy pits. Haskins has now sectioned and removed his black ashy pit, while the thorough work taking sediment samples from the floor layers around the hearths continues, and Suzi's drain is still producing waterlogged finds.

A burning even (hearth?) in Structure 1.

Jamie spent the last quarter of the day out in Evertaft, plotting in points produced by Terry's auger and monument surveys. Jen forsook the drudgery of the lab today in favour of joining Terry and Nick on survey at Evertaft. Closer to site, Marcus (now sporting his dongle) Laura Murray and Lou surveyed in three more geophysical survey grids over the outlying farm-mounds to the south of the Quoygrew site, and downloaded the data. Apart from interference caused by the remains of a slowly decaying car, the results so far look promising, showing a quite uniform area with patches of burning.

What goes up…

Rounding off the day, the diggers accepted the challenge of a football match from the Westray XI. In the interests of intra-island relations, we… errrm… let them win… by 23 to 1.

Walking on air.  Quoygrew FC


A mysterious pit in Structure 1. Haskins' spindle-whorl.After yesterday's sporting escapades, moral was high but energy low in Area F this morning. Jimbo suspects that a series of orthostats in Structure 1 might represent supports for an early partition wall in the house. To the south of Structure 1, an area of sub-standard paving slabs are gradually being uncovered by Dave and Kate outside the walls of the building. These will shortly be drawn, photographed, and dug out to reveal the underlying layers. Another area shortly to be removed is the western wall of the building, which has a series of earlier contexts under it. This means that in order for it to be correctly positioned in the stratigraphy of the site, it must be planned and taken out. Meanwhile, to the north outside the house, Haskins has been working on finding the interface between F006 and F053 (midden which accumulated against the outside wall). It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it… And he's also found a soapstone spindle-whorl. Nice one.

In his patch, Tim has found a linear yellow ash dump (similar to F071, only lower) to the north of the main hearths, bounded by auger holes from before the site was first excavated. The main event of the day was the lifting of the large stone slab covering the end of the drain at the eastern end of Structure 1. Whatever hidden treasures lie beneath it, they're unlikely to include hoards of Viking silver… but we can always hope!

Tim's linear yellow ashy blob. Jimbo and Mike display their sheer, rippling muscle power as they lift the end of the drain lintel. What was under the lintel.

In FX, Mag's white sandy longjump-pit-like feature has been removed, but it has a highly unusual stratigraphy; not only does it contain a thin lens of brown material, but it is bounded both above and below by the same context! One possible explanation for this, assuming that the sandy deposit is cultural rather than natural, is that a pit was dug, and backfilled with sand on a rainy day, causing the edges of the pit to occasionally collapse, meaning that the interface between the soil and sand became blurred.

Other features in FX are equally enigmatic. In the south-west corner, sampling continues on what appears to be a shell dump, and the fragments of stone gradually being revealed in the central eastern area may well represent the remains of a masonry structure. The two stone alignments that appeared to line up with the walls of Structure 1 have now become further revealed, and appear to go down at least four courses, strongly suggesting an interpretation of "wall", although we must still be careful about jumping to such conclusions at this early stage. At the north end of FX, the robber cut has been picked up, and has now been clearly defined. However, the whole extension has been plagued by modern disturbance in the shallow ground, making excavation hard going.

Laura's femur-head spindle-whorl. Laura's femur-head spindle-whorl.

In Structure 2, Lennard and Laura have been excavating 4 circular deposits in the north end. One of these is almost certainly a post-hole, another is definitely not, but what the other two are remains to be seen. Laura has found an unusual spindle-whorl, apparently carved out of the the femur head of a large mammal.

Dusk on Skaill Beach.

As the first year field schools draws to a close, we take the opportunity to have a farewell bonfire and party on the beach of Skaill Bay before the students depart on Saturday morning. After collecting plenty of driftwood, we got the bonfire going and toasted marshmallows as the day gradually turned to dusk. By the time we began to meander home in the morning, we had the rare sight of seeing the last rays of the sun setting in the west while the first glimmers of the early dawn were simultaneously visible in the east.



Litfing a stone.

After a night of cosy drinking, the crew awoke surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to round off the week, and for many, their time on the island. Jamie, Nick and Terry continued their augering and monument survey away to the south, while Marcus, having completed geophysical survey of Monument 15 yesterday, turned his magnetometer on a possible burnt mound in a field away to the north of the site. Nevertheless, the mood on site was decidedly soporific towards the end of the day, and it was with some enthusiasm that the team finished early to hear the last of James' lectures, this time on ethnicity in the medieval Earldom of Orkney.

Jimbo looks up from a tough bit of trowelling.

The Crew.

Le Weekend

The first year students, Terry, Laura Bolan and Cath Neal departed for the morning ferry bright and early on Saturday, along with Nick who will spend the weekend seeing the sights (sites?) on Mainland, and Jen, Marcus, Eva and Steve, who spent the day shopping the bustling metropolis of Kirkwall. It's been an excellent first three weeks, and all those leaving will be sorely missed.

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