Dig Diary – Monday, July 20, 2015

Day Eleven

The Willamette contingent arrive to blue skies.

The Willamette contingent arrived to blue skies — it didn’t last.

Decorated stone and the Willamettes

Sam Harris prepares to sample an area of burning, beside one of the hearth in Structure Twelve, for archaeomagnetic dating.

Sam Harris prepares to sample an area of burning, beside one of the hearth in Structure Twelve, for archaeomagnetic dating.

Let’s start with the weather. The coarse and blustery wind of this afternoon is now accompanied by pelting rain or, as we prefer to call it, precipitation.

We understand there has been some unhappiness about the diary’s use of “precipitation” on the grounds that, technically speaking, the term refers to sleet, snow and hail as well as rain.

Frankly, we don’t care. As far as the archaeological fraternity in Orkney is concerned, it’s all wet stuff.

Moving on, the Willamettes have arrived, all thirteen of them, together with Professor Scott Pike, and his family.

A number of them actually come from a variety of colleges, anywhere from California to Syracuse, but all are welcome and we are delighted to have their cheery faces among us once more.

Woody huddles down next to Structure Fourteen to escape from the wind, while catching up with some paperwork.

Woody huddles down next to Structure Fourteen to escape from the wind, while catching up with some paperwork.

They have been working in Trench T today — the long trench over the massive midden dump, beyond the house.

In the morning the trench was extended by Spiv Flett, the well-known JCB artist who can, we are sure, take the top off a boiled egg with his bucket.

He did his usual excellent job in the morning and the trench, and the Willamettes, are now in the excellent care of Dr Ben Chan, back from another visit from his post-doctoral research work at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.

He will be joined later by some Leiden students and, if they are anything like the Dutch students who have been digging with us thus far, they will be a valuable addition to the team.

Other important visitors today are Dr Cathy Batt, of Bradford University, and her student Sam Harris. Cathy is an expert on archaeomagnetic dating and Sam is just completing an MSc using material from the Ness.

The new decorated stone discovered by Jan and Claire a lightly incised "butterfly" can be just seen on the top edge (enlargement inset); but there are also small cupmarks; and a highly polished area.

The new decorated stone discovered by Jan and Claire a lightly incised “butterfly” can be just seen on the top edge (enlargement inset); but there are also small cupmarks; and a highly polished area.

Even better, Sam has just been awarded a PhD post, funded by Historic Scotland, which will enable him to work collaboratively with our own University of the Highlands and Islands.

His work will advance archaeomagnetic dating generally but will, in particular, develop the dating calibration curve throughout the north of Scotland, including at the Ness.

It has been a rather quiet day in the trenches.

However, within the space of five minutes two incised, decorated stones emerged from different locations.

In the robbing cut on the north side of Structure Ten, Claire and Jan uncovered a most unusual stone, which has incised designs and cup marks. It also seems to have been used as a polissoir, or polishing stone.

The nested triangle motif discovered by Owain.

The nested triangle motif discovered by Owain.

In the former central midden area, and in among the rubble which underlies much of it, Owain unearthed an incised stone decorated with nested triangles.

Both of these stones are a valuable addition to the decorated stone assemblage at the Ness.

Last, but certainly not least, an important site conference was held today to refine the sampling techniques which will be used on hearths and floors.

Jo, Cathy, Scott and Nick will be using new, and perhaps radical, techniques to squeeze the utmost information from geomorphological and geochemical studies of the floors, coupled with dating procedures.

More of this later.

From the Trenches

My name is Brenda Elias and I arrived here at the Ness one week ago.

I am a second-year BA Hons Archaeology student with UHI. I live near Lochgilphead, in Argyll, (just ten miles from the famous Kilmartin Glen), and it took me two days to get here.

The first week has flown, and I feel as if I’m just beginning to get the hang of things.

Jo slowly refines another part of the massive animal bone spread, this time at the rear of Structure Ten.

Jo slowly refines another part of the massive animal bone spread, this time at the rear of Structure Ten.

The highlight of last week was, of course, the unearthing of a spectacular piece of incised and impressed pottery, which, unfortunately, was found by my trench-mate (Alasdair Stuart) and not by me!

So far, the only pottery I have found has been very degraded and has fallen to bits as soon as I touched it.

However, I am beginning to understand the bigger picture, and to see how our own little piece of wall and baulk (which was previously hidden underneath a water pipe, which has now been removed) fits in to the overall layout and design of the many structures so far uncovered here at Ness of Brodgar.

Our own area (in Trench P) is part of Structure One, and seems to have been cut through by a wall when the layout was altered at some point — though we’re still not quite sure what purpose it served or whether it was used more as a dump for bits of unwanted pot, along with small fragments of bone and charcoal and some large bits of burnt bone.

However, the presence of an apparently carefully placed incised pot might suggest otherwise . . .

Weather-wise, we have been fairly lucky so far, with two really hot days last week, but we had to take Friday off due to very high winds and lots of rain. And as I write it is blowing up again!

I hope we won’t lose any more days as I feel really privileged to be here and everyone is so friendly, with a good sense of comradeship.

This is the fulfilment of a long-held dream for me, to be right here in the heart of Neolithic Orkney, and I hope I will get more opportunities to come back in the future.

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