Westray 2002: The Excavation Diary
Today was the best day EVER!!
The dig's newest team member, Catrina (who arrived on Sunday night), got stuck into the lab work with Jen today, as they began to wade through the flot samples coming out of Area F. Catrina is currently studying at Washington University, St. Louis, MO, reading for a Masters/PhD in Archaeobotany and Textiles.
In the west, the head and catchment of the drain running into Structure 1 has been found, under the doorstep, and cut into the natural bedrock. This has prompted Lennard to search for a potential second run-off into the southern external drain Suzi was excavating last week. Because the drain runs under the step, we should now be able to link the two structures stratigraphically by looking at the phase in Structure 1 where the drain was cut. The cobbling layer now being revealed underlies the floor layer which was composed of three kinds of ash (white, pink, and dirty). The fact that there is no evidence of a hearth anywhere in Structure 2 tells us that this ash was an intentional floor layer deposit, which continues in Structure 1.
It looks increasingly likely that the drain running through the house is multi-phase, since one section of it is made of several courses of flat stones, while another, earlier section is composed of long uprights. These different building techniques run parallel to similar differences (courses of flat stones vs. uprights) in the adjacent wall, and it seems likely that the drain was at some point extended eastwards to draw effluent away from Structure 2 when it was built. The lowest courses of the eastern internal wall of Structure 1 have now been removed, revealing a feature fundamentally different from F034, suggesting that an earlier partition wall divided the house at some point.
Once again, Nick has been out in a field, augering and being attacked by the local ornithology. Jamie and Marcus have, as usual, been roaming fields to the blip whirr-click blip of the EDM. Plus ça change, plus ç'est la même chose…
Eva's uncanny knack for finding large amounts of pottery turned into a curse when it emerged this morning that finds bags are in worryingly short supply. Whether we can acquire more, or indeed, whether it will be the bags or Eva's finds that run out first has the potential to hold us in suspense for at least a couple of days.
Down in the trenches, Structure 2 is taking longer than anticipated to complete. Mags is still trowelling back the clay over the cobbling and bedrock in a vain effort to locate the other side of the southern drain inside the house, which may not even exist. Nevertheless, there are still a few fragments of steatite coming out of this area, so the anthropogenic deposits cannot have been totally bottomed. The fill in the base of the central post-hole has been removed, as has the fill in the small gully at the head of the internal drain, where Suzi is now working on a section dug into the subsoil and bedrock. Vicki is putting the finishing touches to her plans of the area.
In Structure 1, it looks like Jimbo's squad have found yet another hearth, under the flagging of the last one! They have removed the overlying floor layers to allow a better look at this feature. Mike has been working on the internal drain, the phasing of which is more complex than was hitherto suspected, seeming to grow more complex each day. At first it was thought to be a back-filled drain. Then a multi-phase backfilled drain. It now appears that what has been taken to be the later phase, feeding out of Structure 2 in the east, was at some point re-lined with clay, which is now resting on earlier deposits. The slab over the drain in the doorway, linking Structures 1 and 2 stratigraphically, has now been removed, providing proof-positive that the drain terminates just inside the threshold of Structure 2. There also appears to be a large-ish square-sided blobby feature of Unknown origin appearing to the north of the drain. Another hearth, perhaps?
Haskins is still working on F053 just outside the northern wall of Structure 1, excavating his contexts with Gusto. He found a very large sherd of steatite. There was a brief commotion mid-morning when Haskins went AWOL to buy teabags and biscuits. Somehow, he managed to escape a field Court-Marshall.
Towards the end of the day, James B. departed for Kirkwall, where he is giving a public lecture this evening. He will return tomorrow afternoon.
Dave has been working on removing the irregular external flagstone deposit to the south of Structure 1, interspersed with lenses of "dirty midden". It's all looking very nice, but we'll have a job to get it all dug and recorded before the season's over. <sigh> It's a bit like Time-Team, only with more than "just three days" and without Tony Robinson…
The weather has failed to improve, and although it started grey-but-dry, the rest of the day was cold, windy and very wet. After a trying morning on survey, it became apparent that the rain was too misty to be able to use the off-site EDM with any degree of reliability. As a consequence, Nick has had a break from augering since he can't afford to get too far ahead of the survey team in case his canes are attacked by cows in the intervening time. To this end, part of the morning was spent frantically plotting auger holes in a field as it was being baled!
As James returned from Mainland this afternoon, Suzi departed for Kirkwall early this morning to visit the islands' archives for her dissertation on the landscape archaeology of Westray. She will be looking at early cartographic evidence.
After yesterday's incessant torrential downpour, much of the work this morning focused on cleaning up the aftermath and consolidating the archaeology of Area F. As if to illustrate the seriousness of the situation, Jimbo has been forced to break out his second pair of digging trousers. Dave and Haskins have been working in the south midden (the area of the irregular sub-standard stone flagging), uncovering a linear series of quite substantial rocks which may well turn out to be a drain feeding away from Suzi's rock-cut soakaway immediately to the east.
Staying on a drainy theme, Zoë has been planning the internal drain inside Structure 1 before the coursed end to the east is removed. Hopefully this will allow us to find out whether the clay layer at the bottom was placed there as a lining or not, and whether there are any earlier drain deposits underlying it.
In FX, Mags and Lennard are removing sandy fill of the robber trench (dug in antiquity to remove stones from the western end of structure one). Much of the work in FX remains removing topsoil and recent features. Lennard has been working around the "wall stumps" which continue to look more and more like walls which may form a continuation of structure one (or a building in line with it to the west), with several quite secure courses.
This was the weekend of the annual Westray Regatta, but it was with heavy hearts that certain members of the team greeted the festivities; we were sadly unable to compete in the "Daft-Raft" race due to lack of enthusiasm, reluctance to get cold and wet, and a certain… lethargy on the part of most of the dig crew. Other than that, the weekend was fairly laid back and relaxed, with nothing much happening during the day. On Saturday evening, some crew members put in an appearance at the Regatta Ceilidh, and some more attended the complementary bonfire the following evening. Nick, Marcus and Suzi spent Sunday in the rain wandering fields for Suzi's dissertation.