Dig Diary – Sunday, August 17, 2014

Day Twenty-Five

Roy waxes lyrical to an entranced audience on the scaffold platform.

Roy waxes lyrical to an entranced audience on the scaffold platform.

Wow, what a day!

The Ness always looks at its happiest when there are visitors around and today, our Open Day, they came in droves.

It was nice to see so many Orcadian faces in the crowds, taking advantage of a day off to visit their very own, internationally famous, archaeological dig.

Chris explains the wonders of macehead manufacture with his DIY version.

Chris explains the wonders of macehead manufacture with his DIY version.

The weather was not exactly kind. There was, after all, a howling gale for most of the day, but at least it wasn’t raining and once folk had worked out the right angle to lean into the wind, everything went perfectly.

The day began with Nick’s traditional tour for the members of the Orkney Archaeological Society, who do so much to promote archaeological work and to support students.

Tours for the public then started in earnest. We want to thank the Historic Scotland Rangers, Sandra, Elaine and Keith for turning out and so willingly, and professionally, supporting the archaeologists. Caz turned up with her beloved Land Rover (Landie to friends) and persuaded many willing people to support the dig by sponsoring a square of the site

Meanwhile, excavation went on as usual.

Colin, outside the south end of Structure Twelve, and Mic, inside the structure, found more pottery, which they carried gingerly to the finds hut.

Outside the entrance to Structure Ten, Claire and Jan were to be seen planning, in section, the side of the trench.

This is intriguing, as the work on the entrance and forecourt of the structure this year has hinted, strongly, that there are interesting things under the area outside the present trench. Could Nick be planning something surprising for next year? You will have to wait for the answer to that.

Indeed, you will have to wait until tomorrow for another diary as, apart from Jo’s contribution below, we have decided to go home.

See you tomorrow.

Tansy removes the last of the robbing debris from the newly discovered east entrance to Structure Twelve.

Tansy removes the last of the robbing debris from the newly discovered east entrance to Structure Twelve.

From the Trenches

I’m Jo Bourne. I come from Kent and this is my second season on the Ness.

I’ve spent much of this summer in the spectacular Structure Eight and in the central midden area, trowelling the burnt, rotted and compacted rubbish heaped within and between the buildings. Sometimes there are huge spreads, sometimes no more than a basketful – each layer, or lens, distinguishable by its own particular colours and textures.

When trowelled, it reveals its make-up. It can look like a gingery tweed, flecked with blacks and reds; a rich, gritty grey-brown, the colour of local wool, or a lovely, dark terracotta.

This year’s favourite was the ‘Prada midden’  – a fabulous pale peach, with charcoal, white and duck-egg inclusions that wouldn’t look amiss on a catwalk cashmere coat. It was smooth, easy to trowel and had the texture of expensive lipstick.

All these different deposits represent the burning and dumping of waste and, as each is sampled by on-site experts, such as Jo Mackenzie, we will hopefully find out what they once comprised.

We find, too, things that were broken, discarded, forgotten or lost in the midden.

Beautiful flint flakes and tools, sherds of pot, the ghost remains of bone – which has often degraded to the texture of a sponge finger in a trifle – and even some quite lovely worked stone tools. We might be up to our elbows in prehistoric rubbish, but, in terms of small finds, the midden is definitely the best place to be.

My find, last year – the first section of the incredible butterfly stone – will undoubtedly be the greatest of my career at the Ness (or anywhere) so I was thrilled this year to find the motif on the 2014 T-shirts. Here’s hoping we find more incised stones in the seasons to come.

We’re into the last days of digging now before the final planning and packing up of the site.

I would like to thank the team for having me. It’s an absolute pleasure excavating here on Orkney.

I would also like to thank the staff of Tesco, Kirkwall, for serving us filthy diggers every day with good grace, as we smear midden traces over their clean floors. Finally, I would like to thank my housemates Jim, Ben, Jane (and honorary housemate, Catriona) and the rest of the diggers for the ongoing archaeological conversations and for the mumblecore summer.

Trench T is sadly depleted in numbers since the departure of our American friends from Willamette.

Trench T is sadly depleted in numbers since the departure of our American friends from Willamette.

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