Dig Diary — Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day Nine

Antonia watches closely as Dave and Joanne carefully life the decorated slab.

Antonia watches closely as Dave and Joanne carefully life the decorated slab.

We told you in the last post about Jo’s fantastic inscribed stone from the northern end of Structure Twelve.

Just a quick look at, it late yesterday afternoon, failed to register how stunning it really is.

In essence, it features two sets of deep, and clearly incised, triangles, joined together at the points and resembling butterfly wings – or, as one film buff suggested today, the X-Wings from Star Wars). Whatever they resemble, they are deeply impressive.

The stone could not be lifted yesterday, but it emerged this afternoon, after careful cleaning and preparation and to a fanfare of applause from onlookers.

It was carried, carefully, to the finds hut and turned over so that the reverse side could be washed. As Jo carefully squeezed rivulets of water from a sponge over the stone, faint features began to emerge.

By the time the mud had been sluiced off, there were clear signs of pecked cup marks and ephemeral geometric designs. It is rare to find stone with decoration on both sides but, pending closer examination, this seems to be what we have here.

The stone is from an area which is possibly connected with blocking of an entrance.

The exciting thing is that it has obviously snapped from a bigger stone and the rest, perhaps with more decoration, may still be in the ground.

Joanne with the decorated slab she found yesterday.

Joanne with the decorated slab she found yesterday.

Hugo launched his kite or, as Bregtje correctly describes it below, the “flying mattress.” It could, however, have been the mattress for a hospital bed for, as he hung on grimly, the wind picked up and began to gust strongly. It was a considerable struggle to recover the kite and the camera, which was deployed below it, but, after a good deal of hauling, Hugo wrestled it back to the ground.

He has taken photographs of both trenches and they will undoubtedly be spectacular, given the results he has already achieved.

Later this afternoon, he raised his camera-on-a-pole over Structure Fourteen for more photographs.

Returning today was Professor Mark Edmonds, fresh from his new pilot project conducting geophysics and landscape survey in Rousay, and particularly at the moment in the area surrounding the well-known site of Rinyo.

Mark is well-known as the second-luckiest archaeologist in Britain. Everywhere he digs he find exciting artefacts, especially in his second home in Structure Ten. But he remains fractionally behind Professor Colin Richards, who only has to trip on a stone to find that it is actually a polished stone axe.

Mark is back in Structure Ten. At the time of writing he is recording a blank, but we will tell you tomorrow what he finds.

Laura and Catriona investigate a section through the robber cut in Structure Ten.

Laura and Catriona investigate a section through the robber cut in Structure Ten.

Elsewhere in Structure Ten, Laura and Catriona are excavating a sondage through the remnants of the robber trench and discovering that the remaining wall in that area is in better condition than expected.

Laura, who has developed an uncanny affinity with flint, also uncovered a fragment of green and black pitchstone, which can only have come from the island of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland. That is the eighth, or ninth, piece of this rare material from the site thus far.

Jan and Claire are removing the core of the remnants of the second north-east buttress and Sarah, accompanied by reams of paperwork, has started the task of floor sampling in the structure.

Over in Trench T, the Willamettes are proving to be a cheery and hard-working group, despite several of them suffering from a respiratory bug. They have encountered large rubble spreads in addition to Ben’s enigmatic semi-circular feature, but everyone hopes that the rubble will prove to have come from earlier structures. Time will tell.

Site director Nick has been smiling.

We are coming to the end of the second week of excavation and he is clearly highly pleased with all that has happened. He does, however, have a reputation to maintain, so friends will counsel him earnestly over the next few days to scowl a bit more.

Lastly, and by no means least, many, many thanks to Scott’s Mum and Dad, Jim and Sue Forsyth, for bringing us all a Glasgow feast — Jaffa cakes, Snowballs and Teacakes. Ah, a taste of home!

And when we find out the donor of the doughnuts from this morning, we will thank them warmly as well.

Overview of the main trench from Hugo's kite camera.

Overview of the main trench from Hugo’s kite camera.

From The Trenches

Bregtje quadrants and samples one of the hearths in Structure Fourteen.

Bregtje quadrants and samples one of the hearths in Structure Fourteen.

I am a Scottish Cultural Studies student at UHI Inverness College starting my fourth and final year on the course.

I have lived in Inverness for three years now, but I am originally from the province of Fryslân in The Netherlands.

I grew up speaking Dutch and Frisian as my two mother languages, the latter one being a minority language spoken in the previously named province. Being multilingual, and having four sisters and two brothers-in-law living in different countries and speaking different languages must be one of the reasons why language and culture is one of my greatest interests.

One of the most exiting things at the Ness of Brodgar I find, therefore, is that people from so many cultural and lingual backgrounds have come together to excavate in this one particular part of the world.

People working at the dig are, among others, Orcadians, Highlanders, Lowlanders, and people from America, Canada, Australia, Russia and different parts of England.

Hugo's pole-cam — another element of his battery of photographic techniques.

Hugo’s pole-cam — another element of his battery of photographic techniques.

So how did a 21st century Frisian girl end up excavating a Neolithic hearth on Orkney?

Since I was about seven years old I have been interested in archaeology and loved looking at the pictures in archaeology books, which my dad would bring me from Tresoar, the Provincial Archive Library.

Besides, I asked for a metal detector on my tenth birthday and I visited the Dutch peat bog body ‘The Girl of Yde’ in the Drents Museum a couple of years before that.

The fact that this girl, with her ginger hair, was thousands of years old left a great impact on me. For many years I wanted to become an archaeologist, until my interest in languages and culture became stronger.

The interest in archaeology never completely faded, and so I was happy to discover that many of the modules on my course are about archaeology. Excavation skills were one these modules, and that is how I ended up at the Ness of Brodgar.

In the past couple of days I have excavated one of the hearths in Trench P/Structure Fourteen. Firstly, the hearth was “divided” into four quarters with lines and two of those quarters are now being cross-sectioned. Yesterday, the charcoal layer came off and I took a bulk sample and a sample for geochemical analysis for each quarter. Besides, I planned and levelled the hearth.

The layers forming the hearth will undergo archaeomagnetic analysis later on. One of the supervisors, Hugo, took aerial photographs of Structure Fourteen, by putting a kite, or as some people call it, a “flying mattress” into the air.

To finish with one last important note: During the lunch-break, caramel wafers and donuts were passed around to, so I suspect, keep the excavators going in today’s rainy and windy weather.

Bregtje Sijtsma

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