Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Day Twenty-Eight

A fantastic overview of Trench T from Robert Hansen's drone.

A fantastic overview of Trench T from Robert Hansen’s drone.

Fascinated, but perplexed

This morning started off with a grand tour of Trench T — that far-off trench, of which little was known until it forced itself on everyone’s attention in recent days. The developments there are fascinating and utterly perplexing.

We have shared most of them with you already — including the orthostats, the walls, the multiple pits and the enigmatic drain, all of them amounting to . . . who knows?

It may well resolve into a structure of sorts, much of which may have been lost to stone robbing. But what sort of building is it? And why is it there?

The team gather for this morning's Trench T briefing.

The team gather for this morning’s Trench T briefing.

Dave gave an engrossing description of the huge trench, from top to bottom, with frank acknowledgement of the difficulties it presents and a useful reminder that, desperate as we are to know what it all means, the area must be very carefully excavated in sequence.

One thing that everyone can agree on is the tremendous work done in that trench by the Willamettes.

They have shown dedication, skill, resilience and a rare degree of good humour in the face of hard physical work and frequently nasty weather.

Congratulations and thanks to them all in what is their last week on site.

In the main trench, Structure One is becoming something of a tiresome copycat.

Close by, and probably only a little younger, Structure Fourteen has long been known for exotic artefacts, including the famous blue-and-white polished stone axe.

The new drain capstones revealed under the north end of Structure One.

The new drain capstones revealed under the north end of Structure One.

Structure One, austere, and a little aloof from the other structures, has rarely descended to such bling, other than a dignified line in stone decoration.

This year everything has changed.

Obviously desperate to catch up with everyone else, Structure One has already produced an axe (Andy), a bead (Chris) and a polished pebble (Callum).

That was back in July.

Today it went one better.

Not to be outdone by Trench T’s nice drain, Structure One hurried to produce one of its own.

It is adjacent to the north entrance and probably belongs to Phase Four, which is probably related to, and contemporary with, Structure Nine, which was excavated a few years ago. It may also be the capping for an earlier drain and may feed into the existing drain in the sondage to the west of Structure One.

It was an honour today to be visited by Professor Richard Bradley, one of Britain’s most eminent archaeologists.

Antonia Thomas explains the intricacies of the Ness art to Richard Bradley.

Antonia Thomas explains the intricacies of the Ness art to Professor Richard Bradley.

This was his first real visit to the Ness. He had visited in 2008, when he was digging in Caithness, but there was little to be seen then in comparison with what is now uncovered.

He has, of course, written several books on Neolithic art and decoration and so enjoyed a talk with UHI’s Antonia Thomas, who is on the point of finishing her doctorate on that subject and who could tell him of the more than 700 examples of decorated stone already discovered on site.

Our last visitors today were Robert Hansen, his wife Renee and their noisy little friend, the quadcopter.

That’s just a fancy name for a drone but Robert, a former pilot, is expert at guiding his little device across the site and taking amazing photographs with remarkably high resolution.

Frankly, we want one.

It would be a tremendous addition to the site armoury and would allow a really detailed recoding of everyday developments.

Is Santa listening? We have, after all, been very good boys and girls this year.

Here’s hoping.

Until tomorrow . . .

From the Trenches

Jay considers her next move regarding the clay foundations under the north-east buttress in Structure Ten.

Jay considers her next move regarding the clay foundations under the north-east buttress in Structure Ten.

Hello from sunny(?) Orkney!

I’m Lucy and I’m an undergraduate from Edinburgh University. This is my first time excavating at the Ness.

I’ve visited Orkney a few times before but, due to poor scheduling, these visits never overlapped with the dig season, so the most I had ever seen of the site were a few dusty tarpaulins.

I am sure you, who by reading this clearly have a keen interest in the finer subjects in life, will understand that curiosity began to burn away deep inside of me; I had to see what was underneath that tarpaulin!

My opportunity finally arrived when I was accepted to take part in the excavations with two more of my fellow students at the Ness this year.

A dream had been fulfilled the day I set foot on the site, ready to tackle whatever horrors the weather may hurl in our direction and to find a polished axe-head, a flint blade, Excalibur, that sort of thing

Instead, it has been pleasantly mild the entire time I’ve been here and the majority of what I, and my Edinburgh colleagues, have found — excluding one amusingly shaped stone — has been burnt bone.

Not exactly Excalibur, but you quickly come to appreciate the importance of something so small and how it adds to the story being unravelled at the Ness.

One piece of burnt bone gives a tantalising hint of human activity, whereas a whole cows worth of burnt bone practically screams it at you.

As a member of the public, I might go to a museum and be enthralled by the treasures and various shiny things on display, so carefully curated and protected behind a sheet of bulletproof glass. As an archaeologist though, I can recover a piece of bone, 4,000 years old, as pristine white and as delicate as fine porcelain China; by far the more enriching experience.

I’ve enjoyed my few days here at the Ness of Brodgar, each of which has passed startlingly quickly and I’m going to be heartbroken when the season’s over, I’m sure.

But it feels wonderful being able to contribute my services to such a spectacular site, as well as developing my skills as an archaeologist and gaining more appreciation for the importance of the work done at the Ness.

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