Dig Diary – Friday, July 29, 2011

Day Ten

A rather lengthy addition to our web diary today, in recognition of the “Day of Archaeology 2011”.
Check out www.dayofarchaeology.com for more details – hope you enjoy!

The dig team still smiling at the end of an exhausting but very exciting week.

The dig team still smiling at the end of an exhausting, but very exciting, week. (ORCA)

There is no such thing, on the Ness of Brodgar, as a “Friday dig” –  a day where weary muscles ache even more and the pace of excavation, and finds, slows down. If anything, today at the Ness featured revved-up acceleration, with excitement to match, from the very beginning of the day.

In Structure Eight, the annex that has revealed so much in the way of finds over the years – including huge quartz pebbles, a whale’s tooth, a whalebone macehead and a  square-shaped worked stone – decided to give up another of its secrets.

Roy revealed the 'tool kit' in Structure 8.

Roy revealed the ‘tool kit’ in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

A Neolithic toolkit

A few centimetres from the location spot of the macehead, and up against the extended section of the pier, a curiously slim, and rounded, stone object began to emerge.

With a little gentle excavation, featuring a soft bamboo tool, it took shape as a delicately fashioned, stone spatula, with a rounded handle and a flattish, expanded head.

If that was not amazing enough, it was lying alongside a large, and beautiful, flint blade and a curious stone tool, with a wedge-shaped end – all oriented in the same direction.

Clearly, we need to think more about this cache of tools, but the thought which leaped into everyone’s mind was that it is a Neolithic tool kit, lost, abandoned or deposited 5,000 years ago and now brought back into the light.

Examining the painted stone

Elsewhere in Structure Eight, Scott has now completed his preparations for examining the original painted stone with his portable XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) machine.

With skilful use, this will analyse the chemical composition of the paint on the stone, thereby giving us a good idea of how, and of what, it was manufactured. The XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) equipment is regarded with some awe as it cost in the region of 50,000 US dollars – a sum which would have more than funded this year’s dig at the Ness, with money left over.

In Structure Fourteen, Hugo, and his team, continue to define the sequence of floor deposits in the building.

We have previously referred to the stone walls in this structure as “ephemeral”. It is now clear that they are nothing of the sort. A small sondage  – a carefully dug hole, for the uninitiated –  alongside the wall shows that it survives to a depth of over 60cm. That is a respectable wall, especially as it is beautifully built.

Stacey reveals more of the wonders of Structure 14.

Stacey reveals more of the wonders of Structure Fourteen. (ORCA)

Aly continues to excavate the blocked passageway between Structure One and Structure Seven, revealing a possible outer wall face for Structure Eleven and building up a picture of the way in which this structure may have re-used earlier sections of walling.

The ‘paint shop’ and monster pot

In Structure Ten, Claire continues to define the small chamber behind, and to one side of, the dresser, where the “paint shop” is located and she hopes to find the basal courses of the wall which makes up the cell.

Martin’s monster pot continues to surprise. Its dimensions grow ever bigger and today he found a highly polished, quartz flake within it. This may be part of a polished stone axe or macehead.

Further progress was made today in understanding the construction of Structure Twelve.

By careful examination of the western wall, Nick and Owen now believe that the building was extended, in length, from north to south, with major alterations. The state of the east wall of the structure has now been better defined. Today, it became clear that the outer wall face is pretty well-preserved, but that the internal wall face and two piers have been badly affected by stone robbing.

And that is the end of week two.

It has passed in a flash and has, as usual, exceeded expectations. We say goodbye, with warm thanks, to several diggers who have to go home, and look forward to next week and everything it will bring.

Martin reveals more of his 'mega-pot'.

Martin reveals more of his ‘mega-pot’. (ORCA)

Day of Archaeology – Antonia Thomas

This is now my sixth year on the Ness of Brodgar and, for most of that time, I have been lucky enough to be the supervisor of the wonderful Structure Ten. This year, however, my role in the excavation is going to be a little bit different.

One of the many special and interesting characteristics of the Ness of Brodgar has been the extraordinary assemblage of inscriptions or decorated stones recovered from the site. This is now the largest collection of so-called megalithic art in Orkney, with the majority of those found so far from Structure Ten.

My role in the discovery, and recording, of these incredible stones, over the past few years, has now inspired my PhD, which I started, full-time, in January, with the assistance of an Arts and Humanities Research Council studentship here at Orkney College.

So this year – and the next two years –  I am going to be spending most of my time on the site carefully recording each of these pecked, incised and ground stones and trying to understand these enigmatic carvings.

Although a few other areas of the UK and Ireland have examples of comparable Neolithic carvings in passage graves, Orkney is unique in having similar inscriptions in a domestic context, in the houses at Skara Brae.

The buildings on the Ness of Brodgar defy easy categorisation in terms of funerary or domestic –  having elements of both types of architecture –  and so the inscriptions on the Ness have the potential of informing about carved stones in a range of Neolithic contexts in Orkney.

Now that I have the time to really start looking, in detail, at the walls of the various structures across the site, I am realising that there are far more decorated stones than first thought and that many of the walls were covered in purposeful scratches, forming lozenge, ladder and chevron designs. This is in addition to the pick dressed, cup-marked and even painted stonework from the site!

Although Structure Ten will always be my favourite building on the site, over the next few weeks I am really looking forward to spending time in the other structures as they all their own unique “personality”.

I am certainly going to have my work cut out, but at this point in time, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Day of Archaeology – Georgie Ritchie

Georgie reveals yet another ashy deposit in Structure 7.

Georgie reveals yet another ashy deposit in Structure Seven. (ORCA)

This is my second visit to Orkney, the first being in 2008, when I visited the islands to research my undergraduate dissertation for my joint honours in archaeology and architectural history at Edinburgh University.

That trip happened to coincide not only with the excavations at the Ring of Brodgar, but also at an intriguing site nearby – the Ness of Brodgar.

I went along to one of the site tours and the site captured a special place in my imagination. I have followed the online dig diaries ever since, whether logging in from Cambodia or my home town of Hawick!

This year, I decided it was probably about time that I stopped reading about the Ness and actually started experiencing it first hand.

I volunteered my services to help out for a month, but at the end of last week, I realised this wouldn’t possibly be long enough, so Nick has granted me permission to extend my stay to the full six weeks.

It is fantastic to see how the excavations have progressed since my first tantalizing glimpses of wall-coursing back in 2008.

Initially, it took me a while to get my bearings and relate what I was seeing before me to what I had previously studied on the site plans.

Standing within a structure and looking out, one is able to get a sense of the site from a human scale – how different structures seem to relate to one another within their incredible landscape setting. A visit to the spoil heap is no chore when it holds such dazzling panoramic views!

For me, the only thing to rival this surrounding scenery is the quality of masonry being revealed.

Last week, I spent time working within Structure One, where the walls are so flat and the angles of the piers so sharp that you could almost believe they were constructed yesterday. The skill of selecting the appropriate size and shape of stone, with such precision, makes it clear they were dealing with master masons.

I have spent most of this week, with Jan, in the enigma that is Structure Seven. Instead of beautiful walling, we have a large hearth surrounded by a series of very confusing deposits – discrete dumps of varying materials creating a patchwork of different colours and textures.

Slowly we are attempting to determine which deposit overlies which and peeling back the layers bit by bit. It has been an excellent lesson in learning to detect the subtle differences between different silts. The perfect place to be if you happen to be a brown silt enthusiast which, after this week, Jan and I certainly are!

Day of Archaeology – Daniel Crandall

Last October, my wife, Marilyn, and I visited Mainland Orkney and enjoyed a private tour of the Ring of Brodgar by Ranger Keith, of Historic Scotland. As we passed the covered-over excavation of the Ness of Brodgar, he mentioned the possibility that I might participate in the 2011 field season.

I applied in January, and, in April, learned that I had been accepted. I was thrilled, it was a dream coming true. How could we afford it? Could I get the time off work? Obstacles melted away and here I am. Unbelievable.

I’m just finishing my second week of excavation, with just one more remaining.

We’ve been working on Structure Twelve and it’s been hard going, removing stone rubble and defining the south wall.  Two days ago, I had the priceless opportunity to excavate a largely intact Neolithic pot from the trench.  Who made it?  What was its purpose? The experience made the prehistoric inhabitants of the Ness seem immediate and real.

When I stand up from my work, an incomparable panorama unfolds.

The whole panoply of Neolithic monuments and structures that comprise the World Heritage Site are in the distance – Maeshowe, the Standing Stones of Stenness, so much more.

A shower is passing south across the loch; in misty rain,  Hoy looms above the horizon.  Swans and their goslings swim into the light breeze.  There is a brilliant spot of sun on the Ring of Brodgar, to the north.  It’s all just heartbreakingly beautiful.

We’ll be home again too soon, in some ways –  home to Moscow, Idaho, USA, home of the mighty Vandals of the University of Idaho.

Cheers and warmest regards go out to all my friends at Latah County Historical Society!

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