Dig Diary – Friday, July 24, 2015

Day Fifteen

What a difference a day makes — the site bathed in sunshine!

What a difference a day makes — the site bathed in sunshine!

Preparing for the open day

It is a lovely day today, so let’s get on with the archaeology. As regular readers will know, many stone roof tiles have been recovered from the structures at the Ness.

Chris Crisp discovers another cushion stone from the south of Structure Eight.

Chris Crisp discovers another cushion stone from the south of Structure Eight.

The problem is, that apart from basic cataloguing, we have not had time to give them the detailed study they richly deserve. Not until now, that is.

One of our talented UHI students, Neil Ackerman, won an award from the Carnegie Vacation Scholarship to study all the roof tiles at the Ness.

He is putting them into a database, adding to, and digitising our existing records and relating all of that to the many photographs taken of the tiles in situ and individually.

To everyone’s delight, this is already giving a much better idea of what happened to the various roofs — especially that of Structure Eight, the building in which by far the majority were found.

The clue for Neil has been the angle at which the tiles were lying when recovered. This suggests strongly that the roof collapsed in one sudden, almighty event, rather than dribble down in a slower manner.

The next stage is to compare all this information with the various wall compositions on site and then to do the same comparisons with traditional buildings in Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

Already it seems possible that there may be links between ancient and relatively modern construction techniques.

This fascinating study will continue for some time and we hope to bring you details in the future.

Fittingly for a lovely day, Walker T. Ryan turned up with his guitar and possibly the world’s biggest collection of blues songs. Walker goes back to Oregon tomorrow so we wish him safe travelling until we see him at the Ness again.

Spot the decoration — Chris Gee's

Spot the decoration — Chris Gee’s massive stone disc from Structure One.

Now for news of Chris 1 and Chris 2.

Chris 1 (Crisp) was digging in the south end of Structure Eight today when he unearthed another cushion stone.

This one was badly degraded but enough of it survives to suggest it must have been very beautiful when new.

Chris 2 (Gee, that is), arrived back on site after his exertions at the Smerquoy earlier-Neolithic site, which he is excavating with Professor Colin Richards.

Chris is renowned for his extraordinarily keen eye for incised and decorated stone. Frankly, we believe we could lead him blindfold into a building and he would immediately point to an incised stone.

True to form, he unearthed a very large pot lid which has, yes, lightly incised decoration. Heaven knows how he spotted it for the rest of us have had to angle it against the light to see anything. Maybe he eats a lot of carrots, or is that only for night vision?

The north end of Structure One, where the UHI students have been beavering away.

The north end of Structure One, where the UHI students have been beavering away.

Our first batch of UHI students are ending their two-week stint at the Ness and have been delightful, hard-working companions.

Much of their work has concentrated on the removal of the last of the water pipe baulk at the north end of Structure One and now that the last of the associated collapsed material is also going, we should come right down on to the primary floors.

This north part of the building was abandoned when Structure One was remodelled when the massive curving wall was inserted across its interior and occupation limited to the much reduced southern half of the building.

This should reveal the original stone furniture and perhaps the basal courses of robbed out walls, and will be in contrast to the rest of Structure One where excavation is still in the secondary phase of the building.

Much work is continuing in the remnants of the Central Midden Area at the south end of Structure Eight. The removal of the last of the midden is exposing rubble relating to the collapse of Structure Eight and its partial demolition for the construction of Structure Ten.

Tom removing more of the infill of the robber trench around the east entrance to Structure Twelve.

Tom removing more of the infill of the robber trench around the east entrance to Structure Twelve.

Elsewhere, Tom is working hard in the east entrance to Structure Twelve and showing that the wall on either side of the entrance may not have curved inwards, as originally thought, but may instead be straight and to have slumped inwards.

Sincere apologies. We forgot to mention earlier in the week the delicious cake baked by Alice’s mother for the diggers. We have never seen cake disappear so quickly, so many thanks, if belatedly.

Now we have some very important news.

We hold the first of our Open Days this Sunday, July 26.

There will be tours on site, together with our OAS shop, a demonstration of cooking in a replica Neolithic pot, demonstrations of pigment making, stonework, flint knapping and stone wall building.

In addition, the nearby Stenness Hall will host demonstrations of animal bone analysis, environmental archaeology and face tattooing, together with the OAS shop and a UHI information display.

It is free, will be great fun and everybody is invited. So come along to both site and hall anytime on Sunday from 11am to 4pm.

See you there.

From the Trenches

Catriona plans part of the bone deposit around Structure Ten.

Catriona plans part of the bone deposit around Structure Ten.

My name is Miles, one of the Willamette University students working at the Ness for part of the dig season, and I want to talk about exactly why people come to work on such a rainy, cold, wind-blasted spit of land for large portions of their summers.

Certainly the archaeology at this site is unparalleled in many ways, yet I found this to not entirely explain this phenomenon. Yesterday, as I was being nearly blown over with one of my trench-mates in the howling 35+ mph winds roaring across the water from the west, I caught myself smiling several times.

Although this may have been a frozen grimace from the frigid rain numbing my face, I have a suspicion that it was, at least partially, motivated by an entirely less painful reason.

Concentrating on not slipping on rain-slicked rocks and increasingly thick mud in our trenches, while hauling heavy buckets of sodden earth up to ground level, we were all having fun.

My trench mates teased me, and I gave back exactly what I got. The eclectic group of people around me gossiped, laughed, reminisced, shared stories, and cursed the weather, all overlaid by highly intelligent and fast paced discourse on the general archaeology of the site or one of the specific challenges we were immediately facing in our excavation.

All of this interaction was filled with friendliness and joy, and after only a week on site I felt as included as possible. Herein I found my reason for smiling; the community with which I was surrounded.

Today, with beautiful sunny weather and work not being halted by the rain, I found the exact same level of willingness to share knowledge and humour with an inexperienced undergrad on his first dig as I had in some of the foulest summer conditions I have ever experienced.

Herein also was the answer to my question of why people so joyously flock to a dig like the Ness of Brodgar: although the archaeology is superb, it is the people that make it such a desirable place to be, and the community surrounding the site that makes it a place people want to return to working on for years on end.

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