Dig Diary – Friday, August 3, 2012

Day Fifteen

Adam Stanford's super pole cam is put to great use.

Adam Stanford’s super pole cam is put to great use.

Today, Friday, was a day of excellent archaeology and jaw-dropping technology to assist with the site recording.

Mark, from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Kirkwall, kicked off the day by demonstrating laser-scanning to the students.

This is not necessarily the easiest of techniques, but Mark is a good teacher and everyone seemed happy with progress.

His laser images will complement the 3D work being done by Adam Stanford, which we mentioned yesterday.

Today, we had the delight of seeing Adam raise an enormous pole with a camera perched on the top. The pole, which is telescopic, usually lies along the back of his Land Rover.

To raise it, he fixes it to a vertical mount at the rear, and engages an electric motor to power the sections upwards.

It is a most impressive sight. A group of visitors were being shown round the site when he started and, to a man and a woman, they turned round to stare.

The really exciting thing was to see the photographs he produced.

Is it a bird, a plane - no it's Andre's new helicopter.

Is it a bird, a plane – no it’s Andre’s new helicopter.

The resolution is simply unbelievable and every single stone on the site can be seen. He will stitch his photographs together to make a truly three-dimensional view of the site.

Site director Nick was delighted and wondered whether the presence of a piece of kit on site like this could do away with the need for laborious and time-consuming planning of features.

Clearly, it would be possible to produce the necessarily detailed plans digitally from photographs of such high-resolution.

Two things might stand in the way – the conservatism of some of the archaeological establishment outside Orkney, who might disapprove, and the little matter of the money to purchase and run such equipment. Ah well, we can dream.

We must also mention, however, Andre and his ground controlled mini-helicopter, which has done such excellent aerial photography in the past, and which was also deployed today.

St 1 as viewed from Andre's mini-helicopter - fantastic

Structure One, as viewed from Andre’s mini-helicopter – fantastic.

Structure Fourteen has made great strides under Hugo, Jim and their team.

We can now see how large scoops were taken out of the north end of the structure by stone robbers, who filled the resulting holes with basically sterile soil.

A lot of the wall has been taken away, but much of value remains.

Ken stratigraphically removes a baulk from the middens infilling St 8.

Ken stratigraphically removes a baulk from the middens infilling Structure Eight.

There is a nice entrance to the structure, flanked by orthostats, with piers and other orthostats defining a recess.

Hugo is planning to use his mattock again at the beginning of next week and it will not be long before we have a complete floor plan of this interesting structure, which can now be seen to be around 12 metres in length.

Quite the most curious feature in the area, however, is in the very north corner where, what looked like paving, is now resolving into a set of steps heading downwards towards . . . who knows what?

In the central midden, Dave and his team are continuing to take down the midden deposits stratigraphically and the same process is taking place in Structure Twelve, where lots of internal stone furniture is beginning to peep skywards from the surface of the midden.

A major photo session is planned for the beginning of next week and then the work of removing the different dumps of midden, stratigraphically, will begin in earnest. This will allow the pottery from these discrete events to be compared, with, we are certain, interesting results.

And on that subject, veteran Ness digger Ray carefully excavated a nice, applied-decoration sherd from the midden yesterday afternoon. As a bonus, it had been finished in contrasting red and black colouring and, when whole, would have been a striking pot indeed.

In Structure Ten, everything has quietened down after the excitement yesterday of Mark’s pestle.  Construction cuts for orthostats, relating to the last major phase, were examined and Mike remains hopeful that the shallow depression being excavated by Sarah will yet turn out to be the post hole for a totem pole . . . or so says Nick.

Have a good weekend, everyone.

From the Trenches

Mark Littlewood introduces some students to 'dark art' of the laser scanner.

Mark Littlewood introduces some students to ‘dark art’ of the laser scanner.

Hello from Ann and Emily, on our last day of digging at the Ness.

Last year, we visited the site while holidaying on the island and were very keen to return this year to take part in the excavations.

Our week has been spent in and around Structure Fourteen. We started the week on a trowelling line, removing midden deposits, spent the middle of the week excavating walls and paving, and ended with a morning of mattocking and shoveling (hard work!).

Finds from our trench were mainly burnt bone and pottery.

On the whole, it was a good week to be here, with some impressive discoveries such as the miniature flint axe and the macehead.

Ann, the finds supervisor, and Roy, who is co-ordinating work on the pottery, kindly made time to show us some of the Grooved Ware that has been recovered over the past three weeks.

There is so much of it, in a wide range of sizes, from quite small vessels to enormous “super-size” buckets. We met Elle who is researching the pottery from Structure Twelve, comparing the pottery from different contexts and we will be interested to see what she finds out.

Our week has flown past and we look forward to keeping up to date with events in Structure Fourteen, and the rest of the site, by reading the blog (with insiders’ perspective).

Many thanks to Nick for taking us on as volunteers and to everyone for making us so welcome. And a special thanks to Hugo and Jim, who directed operations in our trench.

Emily says that she couldn’t have had a better introduction to excavation and is threatening to come back next year . . .

Ann MacSween and Emily Killgore


My name is Erika Sutherland and I am entering my fourth year of my undergrad in archaeology from the University of British Columbia.

I am here with the Willamette group, which has graciously accepted me as one of their own.

This is my first field and excavation experience and I could not have asked for a more exciting and beautiful place than here at the Ness of Brodgar.

However, this is not my first experience on Orkney. Years ago, the August I spent here with my family was much colder and rainier than the summer I’m seeing now. I must admit I hardly recognised the sites and towns without the constant clouds and downpour.

On my first visit here, I thought Orkney was fantastic, but having the chance to see it all under a bright northern sun is truly amazing.

When I came to Orkney, several years ago, I arrived much younger and more naïve about the historical and pre-historical landscape.

My father’s side of the family has their roots here on several of the surrounding islands of Orkney, including Hoy and South Ronaldsay. In fact, one of my great-grandmothers called the village of Stenness home. That vacation was spent in many cemeteries, visiting long past family and the many Bronze Age and Neolithic sites that are numerous all over the islands.

Returning as an archaeology student I have a much greater appreciation for the historical and geographical context of these sites, yet I am still learning!

The Ness of Brodgar excavation has provided a new learning experience every day.

The first day they handed me a trowel and placed me in the midden deposit between Structures Twelve and Eight. It wasn’t too long before I was experimenting with the different trowel techniques and coming across my first bit of Neolithic Grooved Ware pottery.

The excitement of uncovering an item crafted and used thousands of years before myself, or any of us, were here is unforgettable. That was just the beginning of finds I would see emerge from the earth. So far, I have excavated a variety of stone tools, flint flakes, worked flint and pottery ranging from well preserved to hardly recognisable.

I am currently working along the wall of Structure One, where I am learning the techniques of context recognition and recording, as well as planning and drawing site details.

I am overwhelmed to return and see the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar so many years later and have the opportunity to learn and experience the area in a much different way than my great-grandmother did.

Erika Sutherland

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