Dig Diary – Monday, July 18, 2016

Day Eleven

The covers had to stay on the main trench today, but the constant rain didn't prevent some hardy souls attending one of our tours.

The covers had to stay on the main trench today, but the constant rain didn’t prevent some hardy souls attending one of our tours.

Thwarted by the rain . . . but there’s big news coming

A rather sad-looking Trench T as it quickly becomes a swimming pool.

A rather sad-looking Trench T as it quickly becomes a swimming pool.

This is not a day we wish to remember. It drizzled, then it rained, then it drizzled some more.

Taken together, today’s rain maybe didn’t amount to all that much, but when added to the overnight rain and the general sogginess which preceded it during the weekend, it brought excavation to a halt.

In fact, we didn’t even start.

Nick wisely decided that by the time we had mopped up the puddles and dried things off, more rain would be arriving. And it did.

Is there a “silver lining” to such events? Well, sort of. Diggers were absent but supervisors had no such luck, being hustled into huts and Lochview house to catch up with their paperwork.

Such things are an important aspect of modern archaeology. Yes, we use every scientific aid available, right up to and including laser scanning and 3D imaging. But there is always an enormous amount of data which must be committed to text and drawings.

Hugo and Dave catch up on the paperwork associated with Structure Fourteen.

Hugo and Dave catch up on the paperwork associated with Structure Fourteen.

There is a sneaking suspicion that things could be made easier for archaeologists. Modern techniques can mean modern production of interim and final site reports and a host of other documents in between.

But everyone also knows that a scholarly article in one of the many specialist journals would not pass muster if it did not include traditional techniques and reporting. So pencils, erasers and tracing paper are and will remain staples of even the most modern of sites.

Visitors continued to arrive through the rain and the mist.

One group, the Argyll Walking Tours, are associated with the American Institute of Archaeology and were led by Nick’s old friend, Dr Mary McLeod, formerly the regional archaeologist for the Western Isles and now a lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands, based at the Lewis campus.

Our chief blog writer Roy - a man of many talents as he is also a ceramics expert and tour guide.

Our chief blog writer Roy – a man of many talents as he is also a ceramics expert and tour guide.

As today has not been too enthralling, we want to promise you, trowels on hearts, that this week will be one of the most interesting we have had.

All we can say, at the moment, is that we have a most unusual and intriguing discovery, which may well shed a new, and completely unexpected, light on what took place at the Ness of Brodgar.

It has to be assessed with the utmost care, but we promise to tell you all that we discover in coming days.

Now to more mundane matters.

Before the site opened, Nick was seen groaning under the weight of a vast pile of toilet paper donated by Lidl.

He was transporting it to the Ness to accommodate the requirements of staff over the eight weeks of excavation. We are now at the beginning of week three and it has all but disappeared.

Now, Nick is a popular site director. We could, if pressed, name some at other sites who narrowly escape lynching from their staff, and deservedly so.

But we are unsure what will happen tomorrow if Nick stands up in front of angry diggers and announces rationing of such an essential item of equipment.

Save our site director!

If anyone out there is hoarding the stuff, or who has over-ordered, or who is just willing to help out, please get in touch with us immediately.

And on that subject (somehow a wet day seems just right for a good moan), we could also do with some help with funding this expensive site. We know our supporters have been incredibly generous in the past, and many continue to be so now, but continued funding is needed urgently.

So, with many, many thanks for past generosity, and with hopeful thanks for the future, we include once more the links which enable our supporters to donate – www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/donate-to-the-ness 

We’re off now to dry the waterproofs.

So, until tomorrow . . .

From the Trenches

Hello I’m Bruce and I am a late returner to archaeology, having been a professional field archaeologist in the 1970s and 80s.

I have just finished a two-week stint in Trench T, as part of Ben’s team, and have found it a stimulating and thought-provoking process.

With your head down yet another of Trench T’s ubiquitous pits, it might be expected your thoughts would be similarly restricted. Not so . . . I found myself reflecting, among many things, on the many faceted nature of community.

What sort of community?

Well, for a start we are still all digesting separation from a certain European Community and all that entails as regards future research funding for archaeology, among many other things.

I was also thinking about the archaeological community. It is over 35 years since I was part of a digging team on the front line (I swear I saw one Willamette student’s jaw drop at that statistic) but I found much unchanged in the way a disparate group of people – of all ages, from all corners of the world – come together in common cause, focusing on a very special site, constantly discussing and speculating about the people who lived and died there around 5,000 years ago.

Having said that, 30 years ago we did not used to have people who kept throwing small 360 camera balls in the air (sorry Hugo) at every opportunity, nor the drone of drones overhead!

Finally there is, of course, the community who built the buildings at the Ness and lived there for many hundreds of years. What did their daily lives consist of? How big was their perceived world? (increasingly thought to be probably larger than we might imagine from our 21st century perspective).

How did they interact with each other and with the wider communities on Orkney and beyond? How and why did their ordered world change and apparently decline? Something seems to have interfered with the settled order. Was it disease, social change, climate change?

I come away from the Ness of Brodgar, tired but happy, believing it has much to teach us not only the details provided by archaeological evidence but also a much wider continuing story about community and society.

I suspect we still have a lot to learn.

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