Dig Diary — Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Day Twenty-Seven

And its farewell from us all till next year.

And it’s farewell from us all, till next year. (Picture: Adam Stanford/www.aerial-cam.co.uk)

Well, it had to come. This is the last daily diary of the 2012 excavation season at the Ness.

We could expand at great length on all we have doing, and at the end of this diary we will give you a little flavour of what happened today. But our primary purpose today is to thank all the people who have made this stunning season at the Ness such an unbridled success.

Our warmest thanks go to Orkney Islands Council, for their continued support and their realisation of the vital importance of the Ness, and archaeology generally, to the Orkney economy, and to Orkney Heritage Society for the use of the house at Lochview. Having enjoyed its facilities we really don’t know how we coped before with just a collection of huts.

St 12 as viewed from Andre's helicopter.

Structure Twelve as viewed from Andre’s helicopter.

We thank Orkney Archaeology Society, especially the volunteers who manned the shop; The University of the Highlands and Islands, Orkney College; the Royal Archaeological Institute; the Robert Kiln Trust; the Russell Trust; Visit Scotland; Historic Scotland, especially Adrian Stanger and his Orkney-based work squad; Andante Travel; the ever-present and delightful Sandra, Elaine and Keith, Historic Scotland Rangers; Helen Woodsford Dean; Currie Brothers, Orkney, and all the friends around the world who continue to support, encourage and help in so many ways. Thank you all.

Moving on site, Nick Card, site director, wishes to thank supervisors Hugo, Dan, Jim, Dave R., Martin, Dave M., Sarah, Mike and Claire for their sterling work in often difficult conditions.

Sarah and Woody prepare the massive pot base for lifting.

Sarah and Woody prepare the massive pot base for lifting.

Also big thanks to Roy Towers, resident pot specialist and tour guide; Martha Johnson resident geologist and finds worker; Neil and Rosemary McCance for their amazing work with millions of finds bags (without them the dig wouldn’t go ahead); Professor Scott Pike and the contingent from Willamette; Christopher Gee for weekend tours; Tom Muir for organising the Kirkwall Museum exhibition; Sigurd Towrie for hosting us on the Orkneyjar website; Professor Mark Edmonds; all in the finds hut, including Scott, Sam, Babette and, especially finds officer Anne; Cecily Webster for behind the scenes flotation of samples (no, she is not learning to swim); and Nicki MacRae, our artist in residence, and to all our volunteers from around the globe.

The most special thanks go to Ola and Arnie Tait who, with the utmost good nature and generosity, have allowed us to dig in this field for so many years. In fact, we simply can’t thank them enough, and we also remember Carol Hoey and her generosity to us when she lived at Lochview. Also to Dr Jane Downes, head of the Department of Archaeology at UHI and to Julie Gibson, Orkney County Archaeologist, for their continuing support and encouragement.

Lastly, and by no means least, we want to thank all of the thousands of visitors who found their way to the Ness this year, and to the thousands more who follow us every day on the diary and from right around the world. Keep in touch.

And now, the merest flavour of archaeology from today.

We mentioned yesterday the large pot base from the central midden which Sarah and Woody have been working on. Today, it was lifted by them, with support from Owain (on his honeymoon!) and Roy.

Against all expectations, it came out in one piece — which is a considerable achievement and makes a fitting and encouraging end to the digging this season.

Rangers Sandra and Keith explain the wonders of the Ness to Stenness Primary School

Rangers Sandra and Keith explain the wonders of the Ness to Stenness Primary School.

To cheer us all up, we were visited by the children of Stenness Primary School. On the very first day of the new term, the entire school were taken round the site by Sandra (an annual event now). Their delight and interest at what they saw was infectious and lifted the spirits of those facing last-week blues.

And so the task of backfilling commences as slowly the site will disappear under a sea of polythene, sandbags and stone for another year.  If you still haven’t visited the site tomorrow (Wednesday) will be your last chance to be amazed by the Ness – do visit!

And, absolutely last, if anyone is interested in getting involved in the dig or supporting it (see donations page) they can get in touch with Nick at Orkney College.

Bye for now.

From the Finds Hut

Mick finshes his plan of he newly revealed passage between Structures 1 and 11.

Mick finshes his plan of he newly revealed passage between Structures One and Eleven.

Hello, my name is Sam and I work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Liverpool.

I came to the Ness three years ago and returned this year to assist with the finds processing. I have a passion for archaeological finds and it has been a privilege to work on all the amazing objects that have been discovered on the Ness this season.

One major change at the site since I was last here was the amount of visitors and press coverage!

I was on site for two weeks and in that time I was interviewed by National Geographic, photographed by a photographer for UHI, the editor of British Archaeology arrived on site, and a reporter for The Observer was strolling around, not to mention the three times a day site tours! But I digress…

Anne, the finds officer, has been in charge of finds from the Ness since excavations began, and the day to day work in the finds hut is sometimes a little overlooked when everybody is outside digging. So here I will try and give you a sneak peak behind the scenes…

Each year, the Ness site always throws up a lot of finds, ranging from Grooved Ware pottery, animal bone, daub, cramp (burnt animal fat), stone tools and incised stones. Each context on site is given its own finds tray, and the finds are separated into general finds and small finds, which are given individual finds numbers. This year we recorded the 15,000th small find, which gives you an indication of how much material is found!

The main issues when dealing with finds are firstly processing the sheer number of objects, but also having to battle with the Orcadian weather! There were two days in the last two weeks where the site was a complete washout and all the diggers were sent home. But this was a blessing in disguise for our small team in the finds hut as it gave us a chance to catch up with the material!

When something is brought into the finds hut, the first thing we have to do is get the objects dry. This can take a long time, especially when the sun isn’t shining and there’s a gale blowing, which happens quite frequently at the Ness!

When I was last on the site, in 2009, the site threw up buckets and buckets of animal bone from Structure Ten, and I spent the best part of two weeks drying, cleaning and bagging it all.

This year, the majority of material coming up seemed to be Grooved Ware pottery, which actually takes longer to process as it comes out of the ground extremely wet and extremely fragile. If you consider that these Neolithic pots have been sitting under the ground for over 4,000 years, it is not surprising how crumbly and delicate the pieces are.

One day last week a large concentration of pottery was discovered on the west side of the trench and I helped to excavate it. We lifted it with a large amount of soil to give the pottery support, and used bandages to support the edges before lifting it into a container to be taken for further conservation and analysis by ORCA.

But most of my time has been taken up very carefully cleaning the pottery with dry brushes and tooth picks, wrapping each piece in acid free tissue paper, and bagging and boxing them to be catalogued and processed. We are always racing against the clock to process finds in time, and the key is to work methodically and with common sense; after all we are trying to protect and box these objects away so hopefully they will last another 4,000 years!

Well, I hope that gives you a little insight into what happens with finds at the Ness. It may seem a little tedious at first, but it is incredibly rewarding work!

I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise the amazing work Anne, the finds officer, does on the site. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and patience to deal with the thousands of objects that are discovered on the site each year, while also dealing with the many distractions and questions and training sessions that take place; Anne is certainly a great asset to the team.

I’ve loved every minute I’ve spent at the Ness this year and can’t wait to come back in the future. Bye for now!

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