Braving the elements to pack artefacts on loan to Stonehenge exhibition
By Anne Mitchell
Yesterday morning, Thursday, January 6, was bitterly cold here at the Ness, with snow on the Hoy hills, a gusty Force Eight blowing across the site and horizontal sleety rain.
Of course, it was the day on which Constantine’s – museum and art packers – arrived to pack and remove the artefacts we’re lending to the British Museum for the The World of Stonehenge exhibition, which runs from February 17 until July 17, 2022.
Poor Jimmy and Kevin had drawn the lucky ticket which sent them to the Ness, from Coatbridge, in early January.
They had to battle in and out with specially built cases into which extremely heavy incised stone pieces were slotted e.g. this magnificent, incised stone block wedge from Structure Ten and the stunning butterfly slab (all three parts) which you can sponsor here.
They also had to pack into special individually foam-lined boxes all of the smaller pieces, each of the which were then inserted into big boxes, divided into sections for each of the smaller boxes – like Russian dolls, fitting beautifully within each other.
The smaller pieces include the blue and white gneiss ”sky” axe and the carved stone ball (both of which you can sponsor), spatulae, maceheads and other Ness specials. Tam, Nick’s collie, helped with the outdoor loading, checking we were doing the job properly.
As Ness Finds Supervisor, I much enjoyed watching and being involved in the whole process.
We have been working towards it for almost nine months having been contacted in April 2021 by the British Museum about the possibility of the Ness being part of their World of Stonehenge exhibition and, of course, we wanted it to happen.
However, in order to lend artefacts to the Museum we needed permission from the Queen’s and Lord’s Treasurer Remembrancer in Edinburgh for the artefacts to leave Scotland temporarily.
To our great pleasure the go ahead came in July and after liaison with the exhibition’s Neil Wilkin and Jennifer Wrexler, we reached decisions about what was to be shown.
In October we started pulling all the pieces together, checking their condition and preparing condition reports, measuring so that Constantine’s could build the containers for the big pieces, and generally laying detailed paper and image trails so we and the British Museum have complete records of what’s being loaned and its current condition.
Disappointingly, what would have been one of the most exciting days of my life has had to be abandoned as Covid rears its ugly head, meaning I cannot be at the British Museum on delivery day in two weeks’ time to oversee the unpacking and placing of our artefacts.
I have been dreaming of the visit for months – getting backstage in one of my favourite places, perhaps having a close look at the Nebra Sky Disc or the Knowth macehead, and the other glories of the exhibition.
In addition to the artefacts, we’re pleased to have been asked to supply some items from our online shop ranges, which will be available in the British Museum Shop and that has involved our Orkney-based producers in additional effort to produce cards, knitting kits and replica carved stone balls. It’s good to be showcasing not only Orkney’s archaeology but also its current craftspeople.
After a big packing and loading effort, much cutting of packing materials to size, the escape and recapture of sheets of tissue paper and a major defrosting of the removal team under our hot air heater everything was packed, checked, agreed.
Jimmy and Kevin strong-armed shut the van doors in the teeth of the gale and set off, leaving Nick, Tam and myself to a much emptier dig headquarters and the anticipation of the exhibition itself – the British Museum!
The Ness of Brodgar will be in there with some of the most famous and extraordinary sites and artefacts from across Europe and if that doesn’t give us a very satisfied glow, what can?