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Week one at Tresness 21

The exceptional Tresness polished stone ball Photo Mike Lawlor

The first week has already brought with it some exciting moments at Tresness. The weather has been kind and the students have been happy and together this has made for a great combination to progress this excavation. The team started with uncovering the monument from its protective state since the last excavation in 2019. And it was a real pleasure for the majority of the students to see the chambers of an early Neolithic chambered tomb laid out before them – many of which were seeing such a monument for the first time. 

The team get to work on cleaning up the trench after being uncovered following the 2 year break in excavations due to Covid restrictions Photo Mike Lawlor

Work commenced simultaneously within the chamber and on a number if extension trenches. Our specialist Osteoarchaeologist Dr Sam Walsh started work within chamber one (at the closed end of the tomb) ably assisted by UCLan Masters student Tish. They discovered few small fragments of bone but the preservation was poor hindering any further identification. They also satrted work on gathering environmental samples for later processing. Professor Vicki Cummings while assessing this area certainly got the largest gasp from the team when she uncovered a polished stone ball. This is an extremely exciting find. 

Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark and Dr Sam Walsh discussing the excavation of the polished stone ball discovered in chamber one of Tresness stalled cairn Photo Mike Lawlor

The chambers of the Neolithic monument have also revealed some fragments of pottery which are plain and likely of the round based type that are often found at the early Neolithic sites. 

In line with the formal authorisation from historic Scotland (that has been required to dig at this and any scheduled monument) two trench extensions were put in this week. The larger of the two – the western extension – has revealed a beautifully constructed cairn structure with a retaining wall. This is thought to be the cairn relating to the bronze age cist that was discovered in 2019. This sits directly on top of the Neolithic stalled cairn which is the main focus of this project. The smaller trench  – the eastern extension has been situated to learn more about the passage way that runs west to east from the main chamber of the neolithic tomb. Aside from small animal bones and shells thought to be introduced by burrowing animals a long bone from a large mammal (likely cow) was found within the cairn material above the passage together a number of broken Ard points – https://www.orkneystonetools.org.uk/themes/artefacts/ard-points.

The extension trenches and the main chambers are now ready for a detailed 3D Photogrammetry model which will be compiled by Dr Hugo Anderson-Whymark later today. I will post the link on this site when it is processed. 

The Bronze age cairn that sits above the earlier Neolithic monument. Photo Emma Corker

In summary a really positive first week with some stunning structural archaeology being uncovered and that polished stone ball!!! With a team of happy and motivated students and a location that is simply stunning we are all feeling very lucky to be involved in this project. I will try to update this site frequently though please bear with me as wifi can be a little temperamental.

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