Week 5 on the Brough

sh middens and structures south west of the viking houseIn the last week of excavation the site finally revealed its secrets. Firstly, the main house was founded on natural boulder clay. Thus its date – when ultimately revealed by radiocarbon and archaeomagnetic analyses – will help illuminate when the Viking Age settlement was established.

Secondly, the features north-east of the house resolved into several phases of entrance passage leading from its gable door. Thirdly, the Viking house had indeed been cut through Pictish (and possibly earlier Iron Age) buildings and middens, still preserved in the south-west corner of the trench. At last these Pictish middens were sampled for study of bones and botanical remains – and a shell deposit was collected for study of climate change using stable isotope analysis. We also collected soil samples to learn more about the middens. What do they contain? Why did so much refuse accumulate in Pictish times, but almost none at all during the later Viking Age?

shell deposit sampled to study climate change

As time ran out we rushed to complete the final drawings in the shadowy sun of a late Wednesday evening. Thursday morning it was time to start reinstating the site. Tons of earth and stone had to be replaced by hand, the site ‘sculpted’ to show the topography of the underlying house, and the turf replaced. Even with the help of four intrepid local volunteers from Orkney Builders it was very demanding work.

zoomorphic mount

As is typical in archaeology, these last days held a final surprise. Among our pile of excavated stone (which, unlike the excavated soil, was not metal detected to ensure artefacts could not escape recovery) a small zoomorphic mount of copper alloy was found by Polish exchange student Martyna Wiejacka. It must originally have been within the walls or rubble fills of one of the excavated structures.

By 7pm Friday night the crew had to stop, the job almost complete, to pack camp in time for a Saturday morning ferry. I stayed on with my family for the weekend, replacing the last earth and turf on Sunday. There was time for one final site tour, for the passengers of a visiting cruise liner. Our experience as one part of the ‘Deerness in 100 Objects’ initiative was complete.


James Barrett