Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Day Eighteen

Jo McKenzie, our micro morphologist, takes more samples in the south end of Structure Eight.

Jo McKenzie, our micromorphologist, takes more samples in the south end of Structure Eight.

Today was rather brutal — that’s the only word for it. It didn’t rain (much) but the wind started strong and got a lot stronger.

The Ness is a very exposed place and the Orkney wind took full advantage of that fact, seeking out every nook and cranny where a digger might be crouched and sending nasty gusts between the layers of protective clothing.

Otherwise everything was fine.

Jim Rylatt gets back into the swing of Structure Twelve.

Jim Rylatt gets back into the swing of Structure Twelve.

It was great to welcome Jim Rylatt back for another supervisory bout in Structure Twelve, where he takes over the excellent work already done this year by Anne Teather.

Jim’s arrival was delayed by family circumstances, but he was quickly into the structure getting his head around the intricacies of what is a very complex building.

We have mentioned already the very ugly, large hearth at the south end of Structure Twelve.

There is a substantial spread of orange-coloured material associated with it, but now it seems that this is actually concealing , and may be part of, an equally large pit, perhaps as a much as a metre across. It will take some time to excavate but this is an exciting development.

Mark precisely records the positions of bones within the bone deposit around Structure Ten — under the watchful eye of Jo Bourne, who beautifully excavated this area.

Mark precisely records the positions of bones within the bone deposit around Structure Ten — under the watchful eye of Jo Bourne, who beautifully excavated this area.

It is long overdue, but now is also a good time to introduce the Ness survey team of geomatics officer, Mark, and his apprentice, archaeology student Beth Murray, who also has the distinction of being the Orkney College Student of the Year.

What do they do? Ask that question and you may receive a complicated answer, but, basically, they record the site in three-dimensions, noting down small finds points, levels, and eventually consigning all their information to a large database.

They could, and probably will, reconstruct the site and everything in it in three dimensions and on a computer screen.

There are problems, of course. Their equipment is highly technical and sometimes causes much tearing of hair.

The survey team — Beth and Mark — hard at work.

The survey team — Beth and Mark — hard at work.

Laser scanning, for instance, is not always a stroll in the park. If it rains you are in trouble because the scanner will scan the rain. There are ways round this and Mark knows most of them but it is irritating.

This week they also suffered from Big Bubble Syndrome (BBS) affecting their Dumpy level. This more basic piece of equipment has to be set level to the ground by adjusting it until a bubble of air in a liquid settles in the middle of a circle.

BBS happens when the vacuum seal on the equipment leaks and the bubble, instead of being neat and orderly, sprawls across its container in a most ungainly way. It can be fixed but is just one more trial for the survey team.

Otherwise they are happy. Who would not be happy working with equipment which beeps and burps, and shouting into walkie-talkies to relay information across the site?

Andy's new decorated slab.

Andy’s new decorated slab (see below for an enlarged version)

In Structure Eight, Jo was fretting in the morning about continuing with her sampling work for geomorphology.

The rain threatened to ruin everything but, as the weather dried up, albeit gustily, she started work and soon had sections of the south end of the structure covered in her hamster holes.

With two days of her visit still to go, she has achieved wonders in a short time, gathering large numbers of samples which will shed light on exactly what was happening in the Neolithic period on some of the floors in various structures.

Not far away, Andy was dismantling a small wall, which is, rather confusingly, associated with the demolition of Structure Eight’s wall and the construction of Structure Ten.

Experienced excavators often have a sort of sixth-sense and Andy was on the lookout for anything which might mirror Georgie’s previous experience on a roughly similar area of walling a few metres away.

Sure enough, he uncovered a large triangular stone on which numerous faint incision marks can be seen. One is Saltire like, while others are more simple motifs.

It was good to welcome the archaeology students who have just finished their work on Rousay.

Led by our own Professor Jane Downes, of the Archaeology Institute UHI, they enjoyed a tour of the site and some wise words from Jane on the significance of the Ness in the Neolithic.

We will have more tomorrow. See you then.

A closer view of Andy's decorated slab.

A closer view of Andy’s decorated slab.

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