Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Day Two

Tyre removal starts in Trench T.

Mike Copper, yesterday’s blogger, holding court with an explanation of the end of Structure Ten.

Sunshine and no midges!

It is as inevitable as bone, stone and pot from the trenches. Yes, it’s the Ness of Brodgar weather report.

We know it drives some of you mad – “never mind the temperature, where’s the archaeology?” you complain.

Tough! As we keep saying, the heat, or lack of it, the angle and volume of precipitation and the wind chill factor are all vitally important to the Ness team, who have to spend all day outdoors in this often rather hostile environment.

Today, however, it is simply beautiful.

The sun shone from early morning. Diggers divested themselves of more layers of clothing than they remembered putting on and, blessing of all blessings, a gentle breeze kept the midges away.

Now to the archaeology, or rather lack of it.

This is not our fault. The team did a magnificent job yesterday in shifting the tyres and plastic and the site, and the structures, have survived the winter in excellent condition. 

There is, however, the little matter of weed and grass growth. Anyone who has an Orkney garden knows that the generally challenging climate does nothing to deter the growth of grass and its attendant weeds. Orcadians are, indeed, known for their love of grass, but this probably has more to do with the joy of perching on a sit-on mower, like a little tractor but more fun.

Anyway, the trench sections, edges and surfaces have to be divested of vegetation and edges made perfectly vertical.

The euphemism for this military activity is “cleaning”. Actually, it makes more mess than any cleaning you have ever seen, but once the detritus has been cleared away the site looks pristine and almost sparkling in the sunlight.

That’s what we are doing today.

Mark and Alette wait for data to download from their bleeping gizmos.

Tomorrow the real fun begins and trowels and diggers will be put to their real purpose.

Elsewhere on site there has been plenty of activity. Christine and Anne are instructing our volunteer “greeters and helpers” in their duties.

These stalwart people will sort out the vast crowds of visitors who will throng to the site from tomorrow.

They will get them to stand in line, march in step, and possibly salute smartly. Troublemakers will be sent to the naughty step Be warned!

We are delighted to have Beep 1 and Beep 2 back on site. This is the second year that Beep 1 (Mark, our Geomatics Officer) and Beep 2 (Alette, a Masters student at Leiden University) have worked together.

After Bryn, the site dog, they are possibly the most popular people on site –  if only because their work and equipment looks interesting, and mysterious.

It also makes beeping noises, hence their names.

Actually, they are recording the site in detail, constructing digital maps and even indulging in a little laser recording which is terribly glamorous, if poorly understood by everyone else. We will stop here.

You have a most interesting piece now from Jenny, one of the many volunteers who assist behind the scenes throughout the year – huge thanks to all of them.

Revelling in Rocks

Woody and Hugo remove the last of the sandbags from Structure Fourteen.

“I don’t know anything about archaeology.”

Nick looked somewhat taken aback at this.

He’d arrived home after a hugely successful, but somewhat gruelling, trip to America, promoting the Ness, to find me – a retired, English and totally ignorant woman – ensconced in his department, offering to volunteer for a few months. “I’ve got transferable skills” I declared, “and love to learn new things”.

Hmmm. So what did I transfer here to the Ness? And what did I learn in the process?

First off was sorting records of finds (spreadsheet skills transfer anywhere!) and then sorting finds in boxes – putting all those little (and big) bags in the right boxes, with correct references for the database. I designed a poster and information board and proofread the new guidebook. I looked up possible grant providers and found out about such diverse things as the cheapest way to send a parcel to America and where to buy just the right boxes to pack the carved stone ball replicas on sale in the shop.

I researched where to send the new guidebook for review.

Hugo manicures the trench edges.

I gathered together all the information about those wonderful stone slabs they used to make the roofs in Neolithic times – exactly like the roof slabs you can see today on older Orkney houses.

And in the process of all this myriad of jobs I learned how it all works – how finds are stored and recorded, the unrelenting quest for funding and promotion, the organisation of a dig and of what it produces. The process of looking at what is found in the ground and trying to interpret what it means. Who put it there? What was in their mind? How did they live?

And I’ve learned about the way the Ness brings together a wonderful, diverse assortment of people – academics and experts, students, enthusiastic amateurs, diggers, artists of all genres, and those always unsung heroes, the people who make things happen – all in a glorious mix of mud and rain and excitement, and joined by the glamorous and successful bigtime BBC people – all making their contribution. All welcome. All accepted.

Listening to Nick’s excellent lecture to open this season made me feel very proud to be part, however small, of such a flourishing project which is somehow so much more than the sum of its parts, as well as humbled by the extraordinary enthusiasm and contribution of all the many participants who each bring their expertise, enthusiasm, support and friendship.

It’s exciting, yes, and fantastically interesting and it is, quite simply, happy. 

And Orkney?

My first time here – I came because my ancestors built St Magnus Cathedral, in Kirkwall.

They were stonemasons and I’ve been trying to find if its possible to work out which were their masons marks – and because I love islands. I have loved the ferry rides for my island-hopping weekends, revelled in the flights to the North Isles, gloried in Orkney’s fabulous coastline and been amazed and transfixed by the midnight sun.

I have been welcomed and accepted. I have met all sorts of wonderful people and have had a thoroughly fabulous time.

And, for the first time in my life, I have begun to understand why people get so fascinated by archaeology.

I will go home with a rucksack full of Orkney rocks of an amazing variety of colours and textures (not actually sure how I will lift it) and wonderful memories and a determination to come back. Soon. 

(PS – Jenny was a marvel assisting us this year! – many thanks from Nick and Anne)

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