Dig Diary – Monday, July 14, 2014

Day One

The wraps are off to reveal Structure One.

The wraps are off to reveal Structure One.

And we’re back . . .

Welcome to the Ness of Brodgar for another season of the most fantastic archaeology in Northern Europe. Over the next six weeks, our daily dig diary will keep you informed of everything that happens; the fresh insights into the structures, the surprising, and sometimes astonishing, finds and, most importantly, the peeling back of the layers of time so that we can understand more about the remarkable people who were here in the fourth and third millennia BC.

One of the greatest pleasures is welcoming back so many familiar faces from previous years.

Every summer, new students arrive to learn their profession and to stretch themselves, both mentally and physically. But the Ness has a solid core of regulars who know and understand the site and who make it such an enjoyable and professionally rewarding place to be.

Most of those from last year are back again, and if they’re not here yet, they’re on their way. You will have met many of them through the diary in previous years and you will hear more of their trials and triumphs in the coming days.

The last of the stones are removed from Structure Twelve.

The last of the stones are removed from Structure Twelve.

The resident archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology, University of the Highlands and Islands (yes, we are now an Institute), in Kirkwall, are out in force, grinning widely and looking just like peedie lambs in a springtime field. They have cast off the bureaucracy, desks and phonecalls of their daily life and are skipping about happily getting tired and dirty.

And so we will start where we frequently start, with the weather. Coolish, but not too cool, with a stiff breeze (as usual) and cloudy sky, all of which adds up to the perfect weather for shifting the tons of rock, tyres, plastic and sandbags which have been protecting the site over the winter.

The only person wrapped up in jacket, scarf and wooly hat is Michael Olsson, the academic who is analysing the way in which we work. His home is in Sydney, Australia, so he can be forgiven his weatherproof clothing.

To our astonishment, visitors are arriving in numbers today. Our official tours start on Wednesday, once the site has been cleaned and prettified, but that has not deterred scores of tourists from clustering round the site fence and watching the removal of the covers.

Most of them insist they will return later in the week when the real work will be in full swing and we will have even more to show. It is really encouraging to see them here. Not only do they give generously to site funds (pretty much empty, as usual) but they contribute hugely to the Orkney economy.

Most importantly, they allow us to fulfil one of the most important aims of modern archaeology, which is to communicate with and involve the public in our activities. As we often tell our visitors, no matter where you are from in the world, this is as much your archaeology as it is ours.

Only the sandbags left to remove.

Only the sandbags left to remove.

All of the visitors, and you out there in the archaeosphere, will want to know what is planned for this year.

Site director Nick Card has a full programme in mind for the next six weeks.

Last year, work began on the floor deposits in Structures One, Ten and Fourteen. That work will continue intensively this year, using single-context plans and recording, together with mass sampling of deposits using a range of scientific methods.

In the central midden, the baulks will be removed, allowing the area to be treated as a single entity and this may shed further light on the importance of the single standing stone which is positioned there, exactly at the centre of the site and, perhaps, symbolically at the very centre of Neolithic Orkney.

In Trench T, on the far side of the house of Lochview, the aim is to go deeper and to try to resolve the question of whether this is really the biggest deposit of midden in Neolithic Britain, or whether a structure lurks beneath, as suggested by the infamous Crack of Doom. (We will reprise the C of D in future blogs).

Trench T will also be extended sideways and stepped, for health and safety reasons and will also be subject to further geophysics in the form of ground penetrating radar.

In Structure Twelve, the aim is to get down to the  primary deposits of this enigmatic and fascinating building, and outside the site, on the Stenness loch side, there are plans for slot trenches which may reveal more of the overall nature of the site.

We are in for a very busy six weeks. Join us day by day as we find out more about this astonishing place.

From the Trenches

The team takes a well-deserved tea-break.

The team takes a well-deserved tea-break.

Wow, first day at the Ness 2014, so the site has to be opened up before we can start with this year’s excavation work.

This involves moving lots of tyres and rocks which have held down the tarp to protect the site since over winter.

It is hard going but it has to be done.  Everyone has just got stuck in and the piles of stones and tires around the edge of the trench are growing.  It has been great chatting and getting to know a bit about the people on the team this year.

Saying that, my name is Amanda Stephen. I’m from Lossiemouth and this is my third year at the Ness as a volunteer and I will be going back to college in September to continue with a Scottish History and Archaeology degree with the University of the Highlands and Island.

I love coming up to Orkney and working here, although, today, I am still in a slight state of disbelief that I am actually here again. The learning curve is fantastic. I feel it never stops and I am looking forward to what I will learn this year.

So it’s back to the trench I go, to move more stones and sand bags (how could I forget about them) and, over the next few weeks, learn loads of new things and gain more experience working on an amazing site.  Can’t wait to see what is uncovered this year.

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