Congratulations Dr Johnson…

Dr Martha Johnson with a piece of  Lewessian Gneiss recovered from the site.

All the team at the Ness would like to send our congratulations to our resident geologist, who has been awarded her PhD.

Dr Martha Johnson has worked at the Ness for several years now and her thesis was entitled Rock matters: A geological basis for understanding the rock at the Ness of Brodgar.

Dr Johnson is originally from Virginia, on the east coast of the US, and her research was supervised by staff at the Archaeology Institute UHI. She undertook the viva for her thesis with Professors Colin Richards of the University of the Highlands and Islands and Gabriel Cooney from Dublin, in August last year.

Ness director Nick Card said: “Martha’s thesis is a brilliant piece of work that will have implications for work at any archaeological excavation. We have been very fortunate to have had our own personal geologist working on site, which has given us an unparalleled insight into the stone used to construct this 5,000-year-old complex — undoubtedly the biggest component of the Ness excavations.”

Abstract from Martha’s PhD thesis:

This research introduced a geological perspective into an archaeological setting, the Ness of Brodgar, a Middle to Late Neolithic site in the West Mainland of Orkney. Discovered in 2003, the site is located on an isthmus of land between two lochs and is equidistant between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness stone circles. The site consists of more than two dozen drystone buildings encircled by a massive wall. To date, ten per cent of the site has been excavated.

This research established a systematic framework of protocols and procedures for the recovery, macro geological assessment and identification of the rock and mineral species in the non-tool, non-structural rocks, termed Foreign Stone for this research.

Once identified, the frequency and distribution of the rock in the Foreign Stone finds were calculated, providing a geological basis for understanding any patterns of rock choice across the site. Integrated into a more conventional archaeological study of the Worked Stone artefacts was a systematic macro petrological analysis of these finds. Additionally, selected segments of the interior drystone walling were assessed to identify the rock in the various members.

These petrologic analyses combined to provide insight into the range of rocks transported to and utilized within the site. Comparative analysis of the data from all three aspects, Foreign Stone, Worked Stone and Walling, was undertaken to identify trends in frequencies and patterns of use of the various rock species. Archival and more current information on the petrologic resources available within Orkney were synthesized in a gazetteer identifying the location(s) of rock outcrops and deposits. This permitted the source location(s) of many of the rocks from the Ness of Brodgar to be identified.