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 Four


Today was the best day EVER!!

"Where's the TST?!" "Jävlaranamma!" "Batman, you say?" "Where do you want me to go today?™"


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.

Out on survey with Marcus and Jamie, but augering alone today due to team illness, Nick managed to bore a staggering 20 holes in the morning alone, coming down onto rock through the shallow soil remarkably quickly. His job was made significantly more difficult by a flock of pickies (arctic terns, Sterna paradisaea) which seemed hell-bent on causing him serious injury. Fortunatly, he was able to improvise, and the "Trustram Eve Wearable All-Weather Armour-Plated Tern Deterrent (Pat. Pend.)" allowed him to continue unscathed. Whether it could withstand a full-scale onslaught by a bonxie (the notoriously aggressive great skua, Stercorarius skua) remains to be seen.

Tern, baby, tern, Westray Inferno!
Area F from Structure 1.

Back on site, Structure 2 is nearing completion. The S2 team are now digging onto bedrock, and Mags was trowelling the lowest levels of clay, cleaning back the primary cobble layer, while Suzi moved from her large external drain to a section in the smaller, internal one. Inside the house, all has been planned and drawn, and the team are preparing to finish excavation in this area.

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.

In Structure 1, Dave has also reached subsoil and bedrock in the north east corner. Further west, a pit half-sectioned in the 1999 season has been emptied. The 1999 Context Card records that the pit may have had traces of clay lining, and speculates that it might have originally been used for urine storage. Urine was used in a variety of industries, including the cleaning of wool, but no trace of clay lining could be found in the half of the pit excavated today so its function is now unknown to us. We can only hazard conjecture as to its original purpose, using analogies from other sites. Some Iron-Age houses in the Western Isles of Scotland feature sub-floor votive deposits. However, we aren't excavating an Iron-Age house, and this pit was in use during occupation of the building (it cuts through earlier floor layers) so this isn't one of them. The pit is also interesting as it shows the depth of stratified floor layers still to be excavated. There is approximately 40cm left to go! Given that hearths and associated living surfaces are appearing every 5-10cm we have a long way to go and clearly will not be able to finish Structure 1 this year as hoped.

The 1999 pit.
The square feature.

The floor layers of Structure 1 have been cut back, better revealing a square arrangement of stones and orthostats delimiting an area of about 1m2 with stake holes at its southern corners. Within this area, Eva has taken a break from finding obscene quantities of pottery with infuriating regularity, and has instead come upon large-ish metal thing. Speculation runs rampant in Area F as to what it might be, but we'll probably just have to wait until the current floor layer is removed to discover the truth.

Eva's metal thing.

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.

Unfortunately, Jen was not on flotation today, since the wind has been too strong. She and Catrina have continued with the coarse sieving, although the combination of strong wind and tiny particles of bone and shell (the ones which pass through the mesh and are not retained) make for rather an abrasive exfoliant. Up in the lab, our back-room-boy Steve is working hard on all the finds coming out of Area F, and Jess has been enjoying his flea collar and cat food.

Low-flying high-velocity limpets'll 'ave yer eye out if yer not careful.

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!

Area F Structure 1

Perhaps related to the weather, the day seems to have been frustrating for many in Area F. Vicki is continuing the planning of bedrock in Structure 2, but most of the rest of the S2 team have removed to FX, since all the features in S2 have been fully dug, and the subsoil photographed. There is little to report from FX itself, though, as the crew have mainly been trying to confirm stratigraphic links with Structure 1 and to understand the wall contexts.

Structure 2
The Square-sided splodge.

In Structure 1, Jimbo has had his team cleaning and photo-trowelling despite the rain, and the photo-tower was erected shortly before lunch for some overhead shots of both structures before Structure 2 is closed down completely. For the first day this season, Eva has failed to find any pottery. However, this is understandable since she has been excavating the square-sided blobby feature in Structure 1, which is looking more and more like another hearth. Mike has continued to excavate the fill of the internal drain, and it will soon be emptied.

The Drain
Geoff looking cold on coarse.

Geoff has been on flot with Catrina, made all the wetter by the bad weather, but they still managed to turn up a tiny copper-alloy object.

The copper alloy ring.

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.


After a visit from Anne Brundel of Kirkwall's Tankerness House Museum last week, today we were visited by Julie Gibson (Orkney Archaeologist), Sam Harcus (Westray Development Officer), and Ian MacDonald and Peter Needham of the Westray Development Trust. They came to look over the site and examine the archaeology, as well as to discuss the possibility of one day consolidating the site for public display, once excavations have been completed. Our final visitor had come all the way from South Africa: although Craig himself is regretably unable to join the excavation team this year, his mother came on site this afternoon to look around in his stead.

Eva has continued excavating the splodge in Structure 1, hitherto considered to be square-sided, now looking far more circular, and almost certainly a hearth. It shares its bright orange and pink colouration with the earliest of the central hearths, and it is possible that rather than being ash (usually darker and greyer in colour) this actually represents heat-transformed floor sediment. Possibly.

The round splodge.

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.

Le Weekend

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.

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