Dig Diary – Monday, August 1, 2011

Day Eleven

Roy and Dave with the latest stone spatula from Structure 8.

Roy and Dave with the latest stone spatula from Structure Eight. (ORCA)

It’s been one of those funny Orkney days, with almost no wind, an eerie mist and a sticky temperature. Not particularly conducive to energetic digging, but if the staff were puffing and breathless, the Ness was up to its usual high standard of both finds and archaeology.

Toolkits and cubes

On Friday, Roy found what appears to be a Neolithic toolkit in Structure Eight, comprising shaped stone spatula, possible rubbing stone and a beautiful flint knife.

Today, and just a few centimetres away he found another toolkit, or it may be a further part of the original one. This was made up of another, and perfect, stone spatula, a Skaill knife and a large rib bone, which could have been used for smoothing.

Structure Eight clearly has more to give, in terms of finds.

Elsewhere in the structure, more roof tiles were removed and floor deposits revealed. A beautiful hearth has been defined between the northernmost pair of main recesses and the contents will soon be sampled for analysis.

Tonni with the new stone cube found in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

Tonni with the new stone cube found in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

In Hugo’s northern corner, Tonni found our second stone cube. This one is neater and cuter than the one which turned up in Structure Eight.

It is also smaller and it will be interesting to compare our stone cubes with the one which is in the museum at the Tomb of the Eagles, in South Ronaldsay.

Entrance located?

In Structure Ten, Mike may, at last, have found the robbed out entrance.

This seems to be indicated by changes in the material he is digging and, if true, will be another significant advance in understanding this enormous and complex building.

Behind the dresser/altar in Structure Ten, further work has been done on what may be a production area for paint, presumably that used on the painted stones. Today, a new stone “dish” emerged, perfectly shaped for grinding ochre and, as if on cure, more deposits of ochre also appeared.

Today we also welcomed new diggers. Some are old friends, returning for yet another spell on this iconic site, while others are new.

We wish them all a great time, and look forward to the fruits of their work.

One of the hearths in Structure 8 (middle distance) is now more easily discernable.

One of the hearths in Structure Eight (middle distance) is now more easily discernable. (ORCA)

In Structure 10 Scott starts systematic sampling the floor deposits

In Structure Ten, Scott starts the systematic sampling the floor deposits, in one of the side recesses, with the X-ray fluorescence spectrometer based on the site grid. (ORCA)

From the Trenches

The happy finds hut being inundated with beautiful objects.

The happy finds hut being inundated with beautiful objects. (ORCA)

My name is Rachel and this is the start to my second week of digging on an archaeological site, ever.

I’ve come all the way across the pond from Portland, Oregon, in the US, for an archaeology field school conducted through Willamette University.

By now, I’ve settled into the routine of digging on the site, as well as life in the lovely town of Kirkwall.  Though my muscles have, luckily, gotten used to the act of kneeling and trowelling all day, I haven’t yet adjusted to the magnitude of archaeological wealth at the Ness of Brodgar and Orkney in general.

It seems that nearly every other day, a new discovery is made which shapes ideas about how this space was used by the Neolithic people who inhabited it.

Though this portion of the blog is called From the Trenches, today the title is misleading, considering I’ve hardly been in a trench all day.

For the last week I’ve been digging on the outer wall of Structure Twelve, but I spent most of today, up the road, at the Ring of Bookan.

Here, several of my fellow field school students and I learned about the act of surveying a site, which is typically what happens before any excavation begins.

The site is considered a possible henge  – though director Nick has other ideas! – and, from a distance, it doesn’t look like more than a circular mound, surrounded by a deep ditch.

But once you’re standing atop the highest point in the centre of the mound, the magnitude of the circle, and the depth of the almost perfectly round ditch, are quite impressive. It’s almost certain that this was yet another site of religious significance to ancient Orcadians.

The Ring of Bookan, Sandwick, Orkney. (Sigurd Towrie)

I have three weeks of digging left on the Ness of Brodgar and I feel like there is still an incredible amount left to learn.

As an anthropology major, with an interest in religious studies as well, I am not sure that I will ever pursue archaeology as a career. But there is still plenty to gain by working on this site, especially concerning the culture and religion of the people who lived here.

It’s obvious that the site was of high religious value to its inhabitants, and it sheds light on how these beliefs and customs may have evolved over time. This is my favorite aspect of the site and the reason that I travelled here to volunteer. I’m very excited, not only because of the archaeological lessons, but the cultural experiences of being in a foreign country that these next few weeks will hold.

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