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 Five


After a relaxing weekend, this week got off to a promising start as the weather remained dry and warm, if not sunny. In Area F, Eva began excavating a stony gully in the north of the house (and found lots of pottery in process, of course…), possibly a support for an orthostat. This represents the earliest of a series of settings for internal divisions within the house, in the region of the side-hearth F384, now completely excavated.

Eva's gully.

In his "empire" to the north of the house, Haskins has found patches of a fish-midden full of limpets and a few fish bones. He's also found a nail. The midden material may be part of the eroding coastal midden to the west of Area F, which it is hoped will be stratigraphically linked to the house before this season is over. In Structure 1, Mike has continued drawing his drain, today planning an amorphous fill within the cut. The drain post-dates the earliest hearth so far uncovered (since it cuts the edge of the hearth), but only by a very short amount of time. In the course of excavating the drain, Mike has come down onto a small patch of red material, possible the edge of yet another hearth. Where will it all end?!

Mags and Kate in the drain.

At the western end of the south drain, Mags and Kate are doing sterling work uncovering a coarse of good quality stone paving (beneath the later poor quality flagging of last week) and midden material. They hope to be able to follow the midden and drain to the stony rubble at the far western end of the house.

In FX, Vicki has been chasing a red ashy deposit, which may still be mixed-up redeposited material high in the stratigraphy. Further west, Suzi has removed the disturbed superficial layers F600 and F606, and is now planning an area of stone tumble north of the northern wall stump. It could be either demolition debris or part of a paved flagstone surface… Other than that, work in FX is mainly unexciting. Until the modern deposits have been fully removed, it's really just a case of being thorough and following proper archaeological protocol. However, the north end of the robber cut that was being sought last week has now been found, and the infill, stones and sand lenses will soon be fully removed.


Today was Geoff and Kate's last day on site, as they will catch the morning ferry home tomorrow. They will be sorely missed. Bye guys, and we'll see you in York!


After a protracted night of unusually heavy and wet rain, even for Orkney (yes, this rain was wetter than ordinary rain), the morning began dry but with a thick mist, which remained for the whole day. With visibility reduced to just a few metres at best, survey out in the fields was impossible, so instead Mike and Marcus took the opportunity to bang in a few more grid squares and complete the Gradiometer survey of the mound in Field 189, to the north of the site. Although the survey reveals nothing in the surrounding area of the field, the lump we surveyed can now be confirmed as a burnt mound, seen clearly as a large dipolar anomaly in the centre-left of the resulting plot here.

Field 189 Gradiometer Survey
Mags digs the south drain.

Due to the rain in the night, the site was waterlogged this morning, making it impossible to work in Structure 1. Consequently, to Jimbo's horror, all work there was postponed for the day, tightening an already optimistic schedule for completion. Structure 1's loss was to the advantage of FX, though, with all available personnel diverted there, and work in the extension proceeded apace. The only exceptions were Haskins, who remained in his middeny blob, and Mags, who continued to dig the western half of the southern drain, which today proved that it was a drain by… well… draining.

Haskins' midden seems to be cut by the wall of the house (i.e. it lies beneath it) suggesting that the house post-dates the midden. If the midden is the eastern end of the 10th/11th century fish midden eroding from the wavecut bank, as we presently suppose, this stratigraphically links the two areas, and provides a more secure chronology.

The robber cut.

In FX, the end of the robber cut has been further excavated, and Tim has found a line of the cut in the north end that aligns nicely with the rest of the cut from other areas, running south. Such a straight cut so cleanly perpendicular across the western end of the building must have been in order to remove the stones of a wall there, either an end wall, or an internal dividing wall (suggesting that the house continues further west).

The lowest course of the wall in FX.

As if in answer of this very question, the "wall-stumps" in the west of FX can now lose their inverted commas, as it has become clear that they are indeed the remains of walls aligned with the walls of the rest of the house, composed of 4-7 courses in places. The paved area to the north of the north wall stump has now been lifted, and much of the day in FX has been spent recording all the internal features (plans, sections, photographs, etc) prior to their excavation. Meanwhile, a corresponding area of paving has also been uncovered outside the south wall stump.

The southern paved area in FX.


Work in Structure 1 resumed this morning, mainly a case of cleaning up after Monday night's rain. Structure 1 is currently pretty much in phase, stratigraphically-speaking, so there is also the possibility of plan photographs tomorrow. In addition to the cleaning, Jimbo also took the opportunity to excavate, half-section, plan and photograph some of the very smallest features in Structure 1. Many of these were similar in form, being elongated ovoids, a little under 30cm long and a third of that wide and deep. From their location, orientation and alignment, Jimbo suggests that these might represent settings for orthostats, but this is rapidly becoming his stock interpretation for anything that defies immediate explanation…

A very small linear feature in Structure 1.
The Great Wall of the Haskins Empire.

In his northern midden, Haskins found an area of paving, which seems to underlie the lowest course of walling in Structure 1, and have the midden piled around it. Thus, it may well represent the earliest structural deposit in Area F.

Mags plans the drain.

Mags managed to finish the current spit of the southern drain, and began planning as the day drew to a close. In Structure 1, Tim completed excavation of another Pit Of Unknown Function, and moved on to an area in the south of the house, where he made the impressive find of another well-preserved spindle-whorl. Not content with that, though, he went on to make the find-of-the-day as we were packing up. Normally, emptying the site's chemical toilet and filling in the cess pit with spoil is not a task to be relished, but Tim came up trumps today when he found this unprovenanced fragment of bone comb with ring-and-dot decoration in the spoil heap from Area G last year.

Tim's spindle whorl.
Tim's pit. Tim's fragment of comb.

There was further cause for celebration today, as Jimbo handed out his 100th context number for Area F this season. In recognition of this, and because we were peckish, a fry-up was held in the evening at Chalmersquoy. Although he failed to incinerate anything, Mike did manage to meld egg and frying pan into a single unit at a molecular level.


Sunset looking over the Atlantic Ocean from Noup Head.

For the second time this week, the morning began with a very thick white mist, which remained for most of the day. This made survey rather an, erm, complicated affair, but after a testing morning of close encounters with muck-spreaders, omnivorous cows and inappropriatly named "precision instruments", Marcus and Jamie reached the eastern side of the island for topographic survey. By mid afternoon, the mist had cleared completely, leaving a cloudless, sunny sky in preparation for a beautiful evening and sunset from Noup Head. On site, the photo tower was erected to take advantage of yesterday's cleaning, since Structure 1 is roughly in phase.

George Drever the landowner looks on as the phototower is erected.
Selkies after sunset.

In FX today, Lennard has supervised further excavation of the south wall, and the emptying of the north east robber cut. In order to better relate the relative stratigraphy between FX and Structure 1, Lennard is inserting a box section (a sondage by any other name) into the eastern extent of the southern wall. By examining this section, it is hoped that it will be easier to discern stratified contexts. Elsewhere in FX, the extent of the south wall will hopefully be investigated shortly, along with the deposits lying just outside it. The extent of the robber cut in the south will be similarly sought. Suzi has been in the north west of FX, excavating a large and interesting-looking fragment of steatite vessel. Hopefully it will be ready to remove soon so we can get a good look at it.

Suzi's steatite pot.
Sampling in Structure 1.

In Structure 1, the sampling of the floor layers began once again, with help from Catrina (drafted from the flot tanks). This sampling will allow us to begin excavating and investigating the contemporaneous hearths it surrounds in the near future.

To the south of Structure 1, Mags' stone tumble from yesterday, which was thought to have been associated with the drain, has been removed. It comes down onto what may be more irregular paving, but looks more like stone tumble. If it is, it represents a possible demolition phase at the western end of Structure 1. But this occurs beneath 40cm of alternating layers of brown midden and irregular substandard paving, which must therefore postdate any possible demolition phase in the west end. In addition, the partition wall at the west end of Structure one could easily have been an end wall for part of its life. The stone tumble from yesterday was tumble, and is associated with more material demolished from the wall. All of this dramatically changes our interpretation of chronology of the drain, and could be of considerable importance with regard to the nature of the demolition of the west end of the structure and the shortening of the building, usage of space and the relation to the later robber cut. Hopefully, Lennard's box section will throw some light on this thorny issue as well.

Oh… and Mike found a potsherd.

Mags surrounded by debris.
The robber cut.

In the evening, James gave a public lecture in Pierowall Community Classroom at the school in the village. He spoke about the work we are doing, what we have found and achieved this year, and about possible plans for the future of the site.


Little to report from today. Sampling of the current floor layer has concluded in Structure 1, and the hearths have been half-sectioned. Lennard's box section has so far failed to shed any light on the chronology of the robber cut/shortening of the west end of the house. Haskins continues to dig his little patch of midden which now seems to postdate Structure 1, being piled against the north wall, and boasting a grand total of 21 fish articulations this week. Jimbo has found a post hole just to the north west of the door leading from Structure 1 into Structure 2. 'S about it.

Dr. Barrett and Dr. King share a moment on a midden.

Le Weekend

"Are you not enterained?  Are you NOT entertained?!"  Jimbo disserts to the expectant crowd. Sunset on Sunday evening.

An unusual amount of work has spilled into this weekend. Suzi has taken various assistants to help her survey a mound/cairn and its surrounding field for her 2nd Fieldwork Portfolio. Jamie and Tim opted to continue monument and topographic survey on Sunday afternoon to ensure that all the off-site surveying is completed by the middle of next week. Other team members and staff were on site on Sunday afternoon for this year's open-day. Site tours have been given to casual visitors throughout the excavation, but the advertised open day provided a more formal opportunity for both islanders and visitors to see this year's discoveries, including a selection of the artefacts recovered. The weather was glorious, and there was a good turn-out of nearly a hundred.

One upshot of the open day was another interpretation of our two-holed whalebone object from Week 1. Local farmers visiting on the open day reportedly used very similar wooden swivels until quite recently for tethering livestock, and our whalebone example exhibits the same wear patterns. Had it been used for rigging or as a tent toggle for example, the wearing would be very different.

The whalebone object.

Finally, veterans of the 2000 Season will be pleased to hear of the return of Trixie. When we last met, Trixie was a tiny kitten that lived at Rosevale, and in Sven's pockets. We saw no sign of him last year, but on Saturday evening he spotted Jen and they recognised one another. As you can see, he's not a kitten any more (he's huge!).

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