Dig Diary – Monday, July 18, 2011

Day One

Chains of diggers remove the stones from the plastic covers. (ORCA)

Chains of diggers remove the stones from the plastic covers. (ORCA)

It hardly seems like a year ago since we bade you all farewell and here we are, back again, to further investigate the enigma that is the Ness of Brodgar.

Although the intervening period since we last “spoke” might seem to have been quiet, there is an ongoing process that really started the day after we left the site, last year.

Finds have to be sorted, catalogued and reboxed; samples analysised; residues from samples sorted; finds sent away to specialists for analysis; a detailed, technical report of last year’s excavation written; site plans digitalised; lectures given; strategies for this year’s dig agreed and, not least, the ongoing process of raising enough funds to enable us to dig on this unique site and reveal more of its secrets.

This is apart from the logistics of bringing this year’s excavation to this starting point – supervisors, students and volunteers to recruit; accommodation and transport to arrange; the mobilisation of a huge range of other resources – site huts, tools, finds hut materials, minibuses, toilets etc; the pre-numbering of several thousand finds bags (Neil and Rosemary McCance must, once again, be eternally thanked for undertaking this).

But it has all been worthwhile just to get to this stage and breathe a huge sigh of relief that here we are again – ready to partake in, what we all agree is, a very special excavation.

Initial cleaning of the site, once covers have been removed, with Structure Eight in the foreground. (ORCA)

Even before we begin, the site continues to generate a huge amount of interest.

We will, once again, be visited by the BBC, with Neil Oliver to conclude their filming for a special, one-off programme, hopefully to be screened in the late autumn this year.  National Geographic will also be continuing their presence on site, with an article planned to appear in their magazine next year.

Over the years, our strategy has developed and is also continually adapted to meet the demands of the excavation and adopt new techniques.

This year’s objectives include:

  • Refinement of the site chronology, phasing and relationships between the various structures – this is obviously an ongoing process that may change as more evidence is revealed.
  • Define the full extent of Structure Twelve, which was first uncovered last year.
  • Define the full extent of Structure Eight – although the south end of this building has been severely robbed, and partly removed, by the later construction of Structure Ten, we hope to find more of it surviving at lower levels. Will it have four main side recesses, like Structure Twelve, or, as we suspect, perhaps six!
  • Reveal and sample floor deposits in Structures One, Eight and Ten (this will include the use of a high tech gizmo – a portable XRF (X-ray fluorescence spectrometer) machine – to analysis variations in the chemical makeup of these deposits).
  • Remove more of the collapse and infill of Structure Twelve (will this reveal a similar sequence to Structure Eight, with a collapsed slate roof and wall paintings?)

And so here we are.

It’s always a relief, on the first day, to get started and to have everyone on site – some new faces and many old ones too.

Despite a forecast of rain for most of Britain, we are basking in glorious sunshine. It wouldn’t have been the Ness if we had to uncover the site in the rain – usually the gales and rain are kept to the last few days of excavation, when we have to cover the site again!

Sandbag removal from Structure 1.

Sandbag removal from Structure One. (ORCA)

So the task of removing the covers, and the thousands of stones used to hold these covers in place over the winter, plus the several thousand sandbags used to support and protect the stonework has started.

As the walls of the buildings are slowly revealed again, expectations are high – what will the Ness reveal this year?

Will it be some new firsts for the site? Like the painted walls and stone tiled roofs discovered last year? Watch this space and we’re sure that you, like us, will not be disappointed.

And after a Herculean effort by the team effort today, all the protective covers and sandbags have been removed and the initial clean started – roll on tomorrow!

May we also take this opportunity to thank all of you who voted for the Ness of Brodgar in the Current Archaeology Awards earlier this year – we were very honoured to win the prestigious Research Project of the Year Award.

So do come and visit us, if you have a chance, and share in this amazing experience with our multi-national team. Guided tours start at 11am and 3pm from this Wednesday, July 20, and run, thereafter each day, from Monday to Friday.

Also keep an eye out in the press for:

  • This year’s Excavation Club, with workshops, open to young people aged between 12 and 16, on July 26, and August 2, 9 and 16.
  • Living Archaeology on the July 25 and 26, with re-enactments of Neolithic life and activities.


The new OAS Emporium under construction - kindly donated by Beedie Sheds. (ORCA)

The new OAS Emporium under construction – kindly donated by Beedie Sheds. (ORCA)

From the trenches

Hi, I’m Jennifer.

I live in Scone, near Perth, Scotland.

Helping, as a volunteer, on archaeological digs is what I do in the summer and any other time that I get a chance. I was here last year for one week and that simply wasn’t long enough –  this is such an exciting site. So I’m here for a fortnight this year and next year, who knows…

Our first morning dawned warm and sunny, as promised by director Nick.

Apparently, the sun always shines on the first day at the Ness.

After introductions and the routine stuff, like going over the health and safety briefing, the diggers set to on removing the plastic protective sheeting and sandbags put in place at the end of last season.

As I type, Beedies, the timber buildings people, are busy putting up the Orkney Archaeological Society shop and it’s much bigger and better than last year’s one. When you visit, buy your postcards and momentoes here. But, be careful on the road as you approach. All this activity is a source of interest to passing motorists who brake and rubberneck and even take photos of us!

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