Dig Diary – Friday, August 8, 2014

Day Twenty

Two weeks left!

Mac reveals the ashy spreads around the newly uncovered hearth in Structure Eleven.

Mac reveals the ashy spreads around the newly uncovered hearth in Structure Eleven.

This is the end of busy week four at the Ness and, horror of horrors, there are only two weeks left of the 2014 season.

However, there is no reason to be despondent yet, because there are plenty of treats, surprises and excitement to come in the remaining days of excavation.

In fact, we can say, with certainty, that Monday morning will bring a big surprise involving the uncovering of something special. It will have to stay secret until then but, just to tease you further, it will feature one of our most favourite structures.

Things have been ticking over nicely today –  or as nicely as they can in an increasingly strong wind which heralds the arrival of a nasty piece of weather named Bertha.

As we have said before, when the wind is howling across the Ness, the best and most sheltered place to be (other than with those softies in the finds hut) is snuggled down, with a trowel, in the trenches.

We must mention Mic, who is still soldiering on with his huge deposit of pottery at the northern end of Structure Twelve. At the last count, he had filled 24 trays with pottery and there is still more to come. But the initial examination of his pottery has uncovered some unusual sherds.

One pot rim in particular is everted –  it slopes outwards from the pot body – and this is not usual with Grooved Ware pottery.

The exterior wall of the pot has a typical Grooved Ware applied cordon, which is grooved along its horizontal length. The surprise comes with the interior of the rim, which has oblique lines scored into its surface.

This is not usual in pottery of this type and may hint at influences from early Bronze Age pottery. We will need more of it to have a firm diagnosis but it is, at the very least, intriguing.

The pink team from Structure Fourteen.

The pink team from Structure Fourteen.

A rash of pink colouring has appeared on site today. It comes in the form of T-shirts bearing the logo ‘Dig It 2015’.

Jeff Sanders, of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, brought the pink things, which have been scooped up mostly by the diggers of Structure Fourteen (well known for being shameless). The logo refers to an archaeological project to be unfolded across Scotland next year and which Jeff is involved in publicising. We wish it well.

The Structure Twelve team take a well-earned break in their 'Flinstone Parlour'.

The Structure Twelve team take a well-earned break in their ‘Flinstone Parlour’.

Another visitor yesterday was Aaron Watson, the archaeological illustrator and reconstruction expert (www.monumental.uk.com).

Aaron was responsible for the magnificent illustration reconstructing the Ness, which appeared in the Sunday Times and he has discussed with site director Nick ways in which new methods can be used to bring an understanding of the Ness to the public.

There is no timescale as yet for this project but we are all impatient to see what may emerge.

Tim Winterburn, a photographer with the University of the Highlands and Islands, was on site today taking some wonderful pictures of our university students hard at work.

These photographs will feature in UHI literature in the future and should be highly successful in persuading more people to study archaeology through the many options available to them at our university.

And on that subject, we say goodbye to the students of the UHI field school, and to several other old friends and diggers, who are heading home at the weekend to resume their normal lives. We thank them for their hard work, but also for the good company and friendliness which their brought with them. We hope to see many of them again next year.

It is time now to secure the sheets of black plastic across the site to keep Bertha at bay.

Do your worst Bertha and will see you all again on Monday.

From the Trenches

The unflappable Anne — chief and star of the Finds Hut — shows Megan the finds system.

The unflappable Anne — chief and star of the Finds Hut — shows Megan the finds system.

The windy, wonderful Orkney Islands feel like home to me as it must have done for many people during the Neolithic period.

As I’m writing this at the end of my two weeks here on the Ness of Brodgar. I am reminiscing over all I have done and learned – and enjoying the comfort of an office chair as opposed to a bed of dirt. Disclaimer: It’s lovely, valuable dirt.

The opportunity to volunteer at the Ness of Brodgar dig was provided for me through my Archaeological Honours Degree course in the University of the Highlands and Islands.

After three years of studying archaeological theory, I was excited to finally get involved with an active archaeological site and get some excavation experience.

When I first arrived here from the “sunny” Shetland Islands, I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

I had heard exciting things about “that site near the Ring of Brodgar” but had never really investigated further. It wasn’t until I walked on site in my new, clean boots – which didn’t stay that way for long – that I finally discovered the truth behind the Ness of Brodgar.

Tim Winterburn snaps archaeologists in action for the UHI.

Tim Winterburn snaps archaeologists in action for the UHI.

It turns out the site, unlike Skara Brae, is not a settlement site but was perhaps used for a meeting area or something of the sort. It also turns out that the archaeologists here use more numbers than I’ve ever seen in a maths class; I’ve lost count how many structures there are and don’t get me started on the contexts.

Gratefully, over my two weeks here, I have only ever worked in two places – the central midden area and the recently opened Trench T.

My weeks have been filled with cleaning – which is ironic since you generally get quite dirty doing this – trowelling, planning and soil sampling. Although parts of this have been quite repetitive, and occasionally frustrating, my experience has been dotted with rewards of finding grooved pottery, beautiful flint and other small finds.

Overall, I have enjoyed the planning the most, although I have only ever done it once. Hopefully, if I volunteer at a later date, there will be more chances to do this.

To sum up my experience, I have been cold, wet, sunburned and blown about, but it has all been worth it. To know that my two-week input into this site will have brought even just a little bit of the Ness of Brodgar back to life is amazing. And who knows? I might even come back.

Kerry Peterson. Signing off.

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