Dig Diary – Monday, July 27, 2015

Day Sixteen

A sea of paperwork consumes the Structure Fourteen team.

A sea of paperwork consumes the Structure Fourteen team.

Glory fades? Not on the Ness . . .

After the excitement of yesterday’s Open Day, calm has descended on the Ness today. Unchanged, however, is the huge number of people flooding on to the site and taking tours. Every tour, throughout the day, is operating at maximum numbers and we are having to turn away those who arrive opportunistically on tours run by commercial companies. This is primarily for safety reasons, but also to enable individuals, families and small groups to enjoy the experience to the max.

We were delighted to welcome Orkney’s Member of the Scottish Parliament, Liam McArthur, to the site today.

Liam has always been supportive and a source of encouragement to the Ness team and he and site director, Nick, spent time talking about the economics of archaeology and in particular the huge economic benefit which archaeology at the Ness, and throughout Orkney, brings to the local economy.

Mai returns to her home-from-home in Structure Twelve.

Mai returns to her home-from-home in Structure Twelve.

New diggers also arrived today.

It was good to welcome back Mai, who is here for her seventh season, and Ray, from Northern Ireland, who must have been with us for a similar amount of time.

By contrast Andrea, an archaeology student from Italy, is here for the first time, although he may consider further studies with us at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Finds continued to emerge from the site.

We have a piece of pottery with a very neat hole drilled in it from Structure Eight and another piece with interesting herringbone incised decoration.

In Structure One, Chris has found a small bead, although it is not clear yet whether it is ceramic or stone, and Callum is also pleased with his “humbug” stone — a polished pebble of a dark colour with bands of lighter colouring.

The new decorated stone from Structure Ten. Are the areas differentiated by colour, or is there a more mundane explanation?

The new decorated stone from Structure Ten. Are the areas differentiated by colour, or is there a more mundane explanation?

There is continued head-scratching over a fine example of incised decoration on a stone from the north-west corner of Structure Ten.

It is possible to discern colour on one section which respects some of the incised lines, or it may be the other way round.

It is the colour which is in question. Sometimes you can see it and sometimes not. How to resolve the question? Enter Professor Scott Pike, with his portable XRF machine, which may, if able to receive a reading from the surface of the stone, work out whether pigment/colour is actually present. Fingers crossed.

Trench T is progressing quickly and is also raising interesting questions.

Trench T is awash with mystifying pits dug into the side of the midden mound.

Trench T is awash with mystifying pits dug into the side of the midden mound.

One of the tasks set the Willamettes is to examine some large pits which have been dug into the sides of the mound.

Joe is excavating one of them and he has discovered that it contains lots of flakes from the dressing of stones.

This will require explanation, but, at the moment, it is a mystery.

We must end with a story about our site director.

A lady approached him today asking if she could be photographed with him. Modestly, and possibly with a slight blush, Nick agreed.

“Wonderful”, she said, adding: “I had always wanted to be photographed with Mortimer Wheeler, but he’s dead, so you’ll have to do.”

Ah, Nick, Sic transit Gloria.

From the Trenches

Andy discovers a small hammerstone from a little 'alcove' in Structure One.

Andy discovers a small hammerstone from a little ‘alcove’ in Structure One.

Coming at you from the sunny trenches of the Ness!

As some of you may be aware from reading previous blogs, I am Sam Harris the newest addition to the specialist team here at the Ness.

I join a concoction of people which utilise a number of scientific methods to extract the maximum amount of information we can from the excavations.

This is rather ashamedly my first time at the Ness and in true stereotypical awe, what a site it is!

I am continuing the sampling strategy of taking samples of burnt, in situ, material from hearths across the site in order to better understand changes in the past geomagnetic field (called secular variation).

Callum and his polished 'humbug' stone from Structure One.

Callum and his polished ‘humbug’ stone from Structure One.

In order to implement archaeomagnetic dating successfully, a good understanding of the past secular variation is needed.

In October, I start a Historic Scotland-funded PhD, entitled Archaeomagnetic Dating in the Scottish Neolithic, at the University of Bradford, which seeks to improve our understanding of the secular variation in the Neolithic by sampling material, primarily from the Ness of Brodgar, alongside the use of other dating methods, such as radiocarbon dating.

So far, over the course of the last four years, me and my colleagues — Dr Zoe Outram and Dr Cathy Batt (my current and soon to be PhD supervisor, alongside the everlasting Nick Card) — have sampled 24 burning burnt horizons from the Ness of Brodgar, with over 500 samples to date!

I have been at the Ness for a week now and can say, with some confidence, I am going to have my work cut out for me as there are plenty of hearths to sample. With only two full days left to go before I travel back to Bradford, I will be excavating and sampling one of the largest hearths in Structure Twelve, measuring 1.4 x 1.6m!

Anyway, I shall leave you with the following thought — if you can cast your imagination back in time, think of the amount of smoke and heat a hearth that size can produce.

And then think of Structure Eight which has five of them!

Tune in tomorrow, when you shall be hearing from Tansy, who seems to have escaped five years without writing “from the trenches.”

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