Week 4 on the Brough

kerbed pathways or a pre viking building Kerbed pathways or a Pre-Viking buildingNow in the penultimate week of the excavation the tension is rising. Will we complete the excavation of the Viking Age house? What will predate it?

In the north-east corner of the trench we at last completed the excavation of later buildings and discovered the original extent of the Viking Age house. At the same time we uncovered a new cluster of features that must be either an earlier building, cut by the Norse house, or several phases of kerbed paths leading into its northern doorway.

Inside the house we continued excavating yet another floor layer, complete with central hearth. Having sectioned the fireplace we now know that this was the original floor of the house – its first phase! Zoe Outram of the University of Bradford visited to take samples for archaeomagnetic dating. To get an overhead view of the house, on an isolated sea stack where it is unrealistic to set up a scaffolding tower, Frank Bradford kindly loaned us his extending photographic boom for a day.

archaeomagnetic dating the earliest viking age hearth Archaeomagnetic dating

To the west, our work focused on recording and removing small Viking Age outbuildings in order to sample the large Pictish middens into which they were built. The bones and plant remains from these middens will be able to tell us much about making a living in pre-Viking Orkney. Recovering these biological remains was one of the goals of our excavation, yet the discovery of more and more small buildings in this part of the site has made the timetable very tight. With only a few days left before we must backfill it remains to be seen whether we get there in time.

making dinner at the dig house

The crew are putting in longer and longer hours to get the job done. So far moral remains high, helped along by fabulous communal meals in the dig house!

In other ‘Deerness in 100 Objects’ activities, Viking Age living history interpreters set up camp at the entrance to the Mull Head Nature Reserve, in which the site lies, and I gave a lecture (at nearby St Ninian’s Kirk) regarding our excavation progress thus far. The organisers invited everyone back to the ‘100 Objects’ exhibition for tea and biscuits afterwards, which was a good opportunity to both socialise and pick up more local knowledge.


James Barrett