Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Day Twelve

‘Butterflies’ and jaunty angles

A sketch of the new ‘butterfly’ designs discovered in Structure Twelve. They are too faint to photograph.

STOP PRESS — Exciting new discovery in last few minutes of today — all to be revealed tomorrow!

What a wonderful day, of both weather and archaeological surprises.

Having pummelled and tortured us for two days with gale force winds and driving rain, the Orkney elements relented and blessed us today with wall-to-wall sunshine.

Those who arrived at the weekend, thinking they had been deposited in a meteorological antechamber to weather Hell, have had to change their minds.

And the archaeology has been pretty good.

Early morning sunshine, hazy and not too strong, came to Jim and Tansy’s aid as they worked outside the blocked southern entrance to Structure Twelve.

As the light angled down, they spotted what no one else who has worked there in previous years had noticed.

A large stone block in the wall was covered with ephemeral “butterfly” motifs.

They are regular and beautiful, but without their sharp eyes, and the early morning July sun, they might have gone completely unrecognised.

The stone has been removed to a safe place, but the experience is a warning note to any diggers who may not examine the stone in front of them closely enough.

In mysterious Trench T, the Willamettes are working hard and producing some nicely trowelled surfaces under the guidance of supervisors Dave and Mai.

Jair reveals the ‘kink’ in the Structure Twenty-Seven orthostat alignment.

There are, however, more problems connected to the enigmatic (not to say downright infuriating) Structure Twenty-Seven.

For new readers, this is the building at the bottom of the trench, which features recumbent orthostats and huge dimensions.

Thus far the elements of the structure have been conforming to nice, straight lines.

Today, the new orthostat further up the structure has shown itself to take a strange and rather jaunty angle to everything else.

It is now possible that the eastern end of the building may have a rounded, or perhaps D-shape, possibly something like the Stronehenge trilithons.

In the space between the new recumbent orthostat, Jair has also discovered the broken stumps of more orthostats, suggesting strongly that the interior of this part of the structure was also nicely clad.

Not far away, the Neolithic pits are also causing problems. We have had more than 50 of them so far but it now seems likely that they come in a range of different sizes and shapes, some perhaps even with small revetment walls around their edges.

Cara’s decorated pot.

Today was the first day of the Excavation Club for young and aspiring archaeologists.

Dave’s daughter Daisy is showing sufficient promise to challenge her dad and, for all their help, we want to thank the Historic Environment Scotland Rangers, Helen Woodsford-Dean and Dan from our own Archaeology Institute.

There are two more things to mention.

Cara, on work experience here from the West Highlands, discovered a very handsome pot with double curving applied cordons.

And lastly, we were surprised to find Spiderwoman on site.

Jo, the designer of our excellent Ness guidebook, and an experienced archaeologist, has been micro-excavating deposits around one of the Structure Eight hearths.

This involves delicate work and careful cleaning away of debris, usually with a small, soft brush. As a confirmed tech-lover Jo is a sucker for gadgets, but nobody expected her to produce a device intended to gently hoover up spiders and then deposit them safely outside.

She has turned this into a means of gently hoovering up midden debris, to the astonishment of her colleagues. The device may very well deal with spiders, but only time will tell whether Ness micro-dirt and dust eventually defeat its innards.

Until tomorrow…

From the Trenches

Today’s blogger, Peter.

Hello, my name is Peter Shackleton and I am a volunteer archaeologist. This is my second season at the Ness of Brodgar.

It is a privilege once again to work alongside some of the most experienced and expert professional archaeologists from the UK and beyond.

Actually, the truth is that the experience can be just a little bit daunting for an amateur like myself, the pros are so quick and precise and I am very grateful that they are prepared to put-up with my constant questions and confusion (when is a drain not a drain?).

As I often observe on excavations, especially at the Ness of Brodgar, visitors are most interested in asking about ‘what we have found today’. They see archaeology as being a hunt for things from the past, the shinier and rarer they are the better. The second most frequent question I hear asked is about how the site is to be preserved and presented to the public in the future.

Failing to understand that what archaeology is actually about is the careful and controlled destruction of a site whilst recording it in meticulous detail. Eventually all these wonderful buildings may be partially dismantled.

Today’s budding archaeologists, under the watchful eye of the HES Rangers.

Having spent most of my time thus far in Structure Fourteen over the last few weeks that destructive process has been very visible, with Hugo and his team dismantling all the internal features, orthostatic furniture, hearths, threshold stones and so forth.

How much of the structure will ever be re-constructed in the future is a question well above my pay grade (thankfully!). Certainly, I hope that it will become an exciting visitor attraction in the future in some form, but for that to happen, funding has to be forthcoming in extremely large quantities.

Sadly, it is a mystery to me where, or how that money could be found (somebody like a Bill Gates, or Richard Branson perhaps?).

Finally, visitors are very surprised to discover that the site, arguably the most important Neolithic site in Europe, is not in public ownership and most certainly is not fully funded from the public purse.

Excavation of this size and complexity is very expensive and every year the money has to be found, much of it as donations from ordinary people. If, by any miracle, you have read the blog to this level, please consider making a donation , however small it may be it all helps the dig to keep going! Thanks in advance.

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