As delicate operations go, the lifting of large and crumbling bits of pottery is just about as delicate as it gets.
Our visitor, Peter Brigham, and his wife, Kareen, discovered a very large pot earlier this week just outside Structure Twelve.
It appears to be a single vessel, decorated with applied cordons, a partially scalloped rim and with large sections squashed on each other.
Today, Ann and Scott from the finds hut set about easing the pot from its home for the last near five thousand years. The methods and material used were those perfected at the Ness in recent times.
Deployed, although not in this order, were part of a Sea King helicopter, a cake slice, fingers and trowels. To explain — the helicopter part is a flat sheet of aluminium for sliding under the pot, the cake slice is used for exactly the same function in a smaller area and the fingers and trowels are self-explanatory.
The pot was lifted later this afternoon, after careful in situ recording, although there was never much hope of it emerging in one piece. In a real sense this does not matter. We can still identify its component parts and the knowledge of manufacture, use and deposition which it holds is still there, bound up in its clay.
In the midden area outside Structure One, Jenny found another lovely piece of pottery.
It has two round impressions with thin, delicate applied cordons radiating out from them. More than likely the cordons will converge further round the pot, although this is missing.
Clearly riding her luck, Jenny followed this up with an exquisite, little polished macehead, broken at the hole.
It is a beautiful thing but the “business” end is completely unmarked. It has never been used and it is just possible to see the percussion point where it has been broken, probably deliberately.
It seems likely that pits were being dug outside the structure as we have already found deliberate depositions in that area of pottery and broken polished artefacts.
Nearby, Owain and Nella are continuing to peel back the midden round the remains of an upright stone.
Nick has tapped it and reports vibrations, even though it is firmly fast in the ground. It is a large lump of stone and it is probable that it is the remains of a standing stone, very like the probable remains of a similar standing stone outside Structure Fourteen.
There is very good news today from those tasked with disentangling the complicated stratigraphy of the site and structures.
Sarah and Nick had a long conversation over the sequence of events in Structure Ten, involving the creation of the layout in the later phases of the building.
The construction of the hearth appears to have been followed by the laying of the floor around it and this, in turn, was followed by repeated efforts to keep the floor level by the deposition of discrete patches and areas of clay. The need to repair the floor was dictated, as we have already mentioned, by slumping caused by the presence of an older structure underneath.
Even better news came from Structure Eight, where Dave and Jane have been trying to unravel the mysterious sequence of events at the south-west end.
Originally, it was thought that the end of Structure Eight was over the earlier Structure Eighteen.
It now seems clear that Structure Eight is, in fact, Structure Eighteen, and was originally both shorter and narrower. It was then decided to both lengthen and widen the structure but, in a moment of sheer Neolithic madness, the new structure was built at a slight offset angle to the original building.
This meant that when widened, the original wall became benches inside the expanded structure. New piers were set over original piers, but again at an offset angle with the new, higher ones teetering on the edges of the ones below.
As Nick said: “What they have done is just nonsensical. By widening the outer new walls of Structure Eight, but placing them at an offset angle over the older walls, they have made the building unstable.”
It seems that our original suggestion that the roof of Structure Eight collapsed inwards may well be exactly what happened.
More good news from Andy, who has toiled for two seasons to make a sondage through the outer passageway around Structure Ten to see how it relates to other areas of the site.
Again, the original idea was that the wall visible on the outer edge of the passageway may have supported the roof eaves over the passageway, thus covering it. This seemed less and less likely as time went on, but Andy’s work has now uncovered evidence that this outer containing wall, which was holding back the midden, was more than likely big enough to fulfil the supporting function.
It is time now for a weekend of rest and recreation before the renewed efforts of next week.
From the Spoil Heap (mostly)
Hello, my name is Rik Hammond — and welcome to my view from “outwith” the trenches’ at the Ness of Brodgar.
I should probably start by declaring that I’m not an archaeologist. I’m a visual artist. What am I doing at the Ness of Brodgar, you may ask?
Well, between August 2011 and March 2012, I was the Orkney World Heritage Site artist-in-residence and had the remarkable opportunity of working alongside Nick and the team for a few weeks, as part of the Symbols in a Landscape art and archaeology project — a collaboration between the Pier Arts Centre in Stromness, the archaeology department of Orkney College UHI and Historic Scotland, supported by the Scotland’s Islands initiative.
The aim of the residency was to provide further layers of interpretation of, and engagement with, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site (and the excavations at the Ness) by considering ways in which Orkney’s landscape, culture and heritage could be interpreted through the combined lens of archaeological study and contemporary art.
Of course, having the opportunity to observe and reflect in this way at an active excavation within such close proximity to a World Heritage Site is a unique and rather humbling experience — one which I threw myself into with relish. The residency culminated in an exhibition at the Pier Arts Centre in 2012 and the effect on my practice has continued to this day.
I very quickly discovered, back in 2011, that just the Ness dig alone was more than enough source material for years of work — let alone the whole World Heritage Site — so I’ve returned again this year to spend a bit of time developing some further work.
I’m fortunate enough to live and work in Orkney (having moved here in 2004), so I have a close and growing relationship with its landscape and archaeology — now a staple source of inspiration for much of my practice.
Indeed, in addition to the time spent at the Ness during the excavations, I’ve returned a number of times “out of season” – often in the company of local archaeologist and college lecturer James Moore, whom I’ve collaborated with on a number of interdisciplinary projects.
The Ness of Brodgar dig is not only an incredible location, but an event.
In artistic terms it’s akin to a “happening” or a “situation” — it’s about the mix of wonderful people and extraordinary knowledge there, their labour and social interactions, as well as the place itself. In addition to the focus of the excavations – the Neolithic complex – there’s a vast array of common threads to witness connecting archaeological and artistic practice – whether it be similarities and differences regards drawing (in both cases about interpreting and thinking, in my opinion), the approach to ideas about research-led practice (or practice-led research?), or themes like time, process, absence, memory and labour.
I work in a range of media – predominantly drawing, photography, site-specific intervention and with time-based interactions – and this year I’m working a lot with video and GPS technology (as an exploration into ideas of drawing in a landscape, as well as a way of gathering data).
In addition to the role and use(s) of drawing, I have a particular passion for art and research, collaboration and cross-discipline practice, process, culture, memory and sense of place – so working in the company of archaeologists complements my work incredibly well.
I’ve found even just after the first couple of days back at the site that I’m brimming with ideas once again – with work already developing about visualising absent (robbed-out) stone and filming from the kite used for aerial photography, to comparisons between Neolithic construction in the landscape and our present day storage and sharing (of thought/knowledge/memory?) via the internet, to working with data gathered from asking site director Nick Card to carry my GPS around the site to track his movements.
It’s a real pleasure and privilege to be able to spend some time back at the dig this year – everyone at the Ness always makes me feel very welcome, in addition to it being a veritable treasure-trove of ideas.
Thank you for reading!
p.s. I knew I could get the word ‘treasure’ in somewhere!
You can find out more about the residency Rik undertook in 2011 at www.facebook.com/symbolsinalandscape – and further information about his current practice at www.facebook.com/rikhammond.artist or www.rikhammond.com.