Dig Diary – Friday, August 11, 2017

Day Thirty

Decorated stones and technical wizardry

A ‘normal’ photo of the incised stone — but enhanced in Adobe Lightroom — to make the decoration more visible

The weather is execrable today, utterly execrable.

There was heavy rain in the morning; heavier rain in the afternoon and we shudder to think what will happen tonight.

Throughout it all, the archaeology has continued, with careful trowelling around the puddles and diggers huddled in their very best waterproof clothing.

In Trench T, supervisor Dave excavated some of the fill of a pit in the south-western area of the trench and uncovered an interesting pottery sherd.

It is very wet and very muddy, but it is possible that it has shell tempering (burnt, smashed shell added to the clay before forming, and visible in the pot through burnt-out voids) which may be quite early.

We will know more after it has dried out over the weekend and will tell you what we think next week.

Undaunted by it all, we had a number of important visitors on site today and, as ever, their enthusiasm in all that the Ness had to show was infectious.

Site director Nick has also had a busy day, ranging from a site tour for all the diggers in the morning to showing other visitors round the site in the afternoon.

Several of our diggers are leaving after today, and Nick took the opportunity to thank them for all they have done.

An RTI image of the same decorated stone.

Simon, our video blogger, is putting together a two-part interview with Nick on the progress of this year’s excavation.

It will be released early next week.

Each part will be ten minutes long, so be sure to be sitting comfortably.

Although we have a couple of weeks of archaeology yet to go, it is inevitable at this time of year that some of our diggers have to leave, for work, studies or family reasons. We hope to see them all back next year.

As a little extra today, we have also included some images by Michael Sharpe of one of the decorated stones from the Ness.

These designs were barely visible to the naked eye but by using some technical wizardry – RTI – all has been revealed!

But, we hear you ask, what is RTI — Reflectance Transformation Imaging?

Well here is a quick explanation?

RTI is a computational photographic method that captures a subject’s surface shape and colour and enables the interactive re-lighting of the subject from any direction on a computer screen.

Jim, the supervisor in Structure Twelve, gives an update to the team during this morning’s tour.

RTI also permits the mathematical enhancement of the subject’s surface shape and colour attributes.

The enhancement functions of RTI reveal surface information that is not disclosed under direct empirical examination of the physical object. Today’s RTI software and related methodologies were constructed by a team of international developers.

RTI images are created from information derived from multiple digital photographs of a subject shot from a stationary camera position. In each photograph, light is projected from a different known, or knowable, direction.

This process produces a series of images of the same subject with varying highlights and shadows. Lighting information from the images is mathematically synthesized to generate a mathematical model of the surface, enabling a user to re-light the RTI image interactively and examine its surface on a screen.

Cultural Heritage Imaging is the organisation that promotes this technique — http://culturalheritageimaging.org/Technologies/RTI/

And, if not washed away in the rain, we will be back next week.

In the meantime, we leave you with an entertaining view from the trenches by our multilingual meeter-and-greeter, Dominik.

Have a good weekend.


From the Trenches

All the way from Basel, Switzerland, Dominik, our blogger for today.

I had a good day yesterday at the Ness of Brodgar. Well, 98 per cent of the day was excellent. I shall explain the missing two per cent later.

As I am pretty sure that my mother — and probably a couple of other persons — are going to read this diary entry against all rules, I shall not give away any secret thoughts … Okay, I have not been writing into my diary since I left my hometown, Basel, in Switzerland, and flew to the Orkney Islands at the beginning of June.

I took four months off my job as a self-employed economist and PR-consultant mainly for social organisations and research institutions.

As part of my sabbatical leave away from my desk, I joined the meet-and-greet team at the Ness.

We welcome our visitors, tell them everything about the Ness and the guided tours. And we try to answer questions (“No, there is no charge for the car park”; ”Yes, that’s the dog from the television programme”; “No, this is not the Ring of Brodgar”; “Yes, you can wait in the shop until the rain stops”; “No, Neil Oliver is not…” etc etc).

We try to convince our visitors to make donations (and most do — thank you very much) and we tell them to come again (some do: “Welcome back!”).

And the moment came when I got hold of a trowel and a bucket and was initiated into digging. I almost immediately found a Neolithic washing instruction in Trench J, but I painfully realised that it had fallen off my trousers.

A few days later — with a lot of help and advice and intelligent answers to my stupid questions by the real diggers — I started to look at “things” and to describe what I saw as “weird” or “It just doesn’t make sense” (citations from trenches J and T).

The forgotten heroes of the Ness, the finds team (missing are Gary and Emma).

Digging and greeting is an excellent combination for me. And from my point of view it represents the Ness of Brodgar Dig.

The unique “thing” about the Ness is its character as an invaluable place to promote public understanding of science.

I found four points to support this hypothesis:

  • The content of the research and the issues at stake are relevant for a lot of people in Scotland, in Britain, even in Europe. These people are interested in their past. Obviously the Ness touches their minds as much as their hearts.
  • A truly transdisciplinary spirit evolves among lay persons, experts, visitors and institutions involved.
  • The scientists — as well as the Ness of Brodgar Trust, the UHI and the landowner — seem to agree that their findings (and finds) are common goods and belong to the public.
  • An integrative and participatory culture has been created and maintained which ensures an excellent reputation and makes it easy for anybody to approach the Ness of Brodgar and the people in charge. Or any person working in a muddy trench.

So, whoever is interested in the history of Homo Britannicus should not only buy the excellent book by Chris Stringer of the National History Museum in London.

They should above all come to the Ness and exchange views, challenge the scientists, see the latest developments, learn more about findings and conclusions — and buy the brand new guidebook.

Then, after close contact with Homo Orcadicus, they’ll have a deeper understanding of what was going on in the Neolithic world (and probably further questions).

Aye, I’ll tell you now about the two per cent of my day that were not quite so good. Here’s the bitter truth.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince some of the visitors to sponsor the remaining three corner squares on our site map.

A1 is sold, but AX 1, A 47 or AX 47 are still up for sale. Only £10 each. That’s a ridiculously low price for a bit of Orcadian land in the heart of Neolithic Orkney. Oh, dear diary, I am sure someone will turn up and sponsor those squares…

Dominik Buechel

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