Dig Diary – Monday, July 25, 2016
Hearths, magnetism and old friends…
One of the great pleasures of summer at the Ness is welcoming back those who have worked here in previous years.
A number of new diggers arrived this morning – although many were instantly recognisable as old lags back for some more hard labour.
One of them is Sam Harris, although Sam could hardly be described as anything but youthful.
He has been here for a couple of seasons as part of the work towards his doctorate at Bradford University. His particular speciality is archaeomagnetic dating.
The diary would like to pretend that it knows everything about archaeomagnetic dating but, if it did, the diary would be lying.
Let’s just say that it has something to do with the earth’s magnetic field changing over time and the recording of those changes to calculate dates.
This is a relatively new field of study in relation to the Neolithic and the challenge is to gather sufficient dates, preferably with cross-reference to other dating techniques, to establish a consistently accurate calibration for the Neolithic period.
That has been an elusive goal in recent years but, to everyone’s delight, Sam’s work is already beginning to show positive results.
His early dates from the Ness are indicating a good correlation with dates already established here by stratigraphy and radiocarbon dating.
In the coming weeks he will be taking more samples from many of the hearths in different structures and, as one of the aims is to build up as many dates as possible to confirm and enhance what has been established already, his results will almost certainly become more and more consistent.
In the north-east buttress of Structure Ten this morning, in the area where the carved stone ball was found a few years ago, Sarah was cleaning surfaces and Alison was planning.
Their work was rewarded when Sarah discovered a beautiful flint arrowhead. It is, to be honest, neither barbed nor tanged, but it is very nice nonetheless.
Over on the other side of the main trench, deep in the sondage under the north-west wall of Structure Fourteen, Natasha has taken over from Hugo, who has had to leave to work elsewhere.
Hugo has toiled in the sondage (and on many other elements of the structure for a couple of years) and it was there that several sherds from a modified carinated bowl were found. A vessel of that sort is very old indeed, probably dating from around 3600-3300BC.
This early dating identification was tentatively confirmed last Friday, when Hugo, on his last day, discovered more pottery and a number of flints, including two demonstrably early versions of what used to be called thumbnail scrapers.
The hunt is on now for more dating material and a number of samples from the sondage have already been sent to Orkney College, in Kirkwall, for flotation treatment which will, hopefully, uncover more material for radiocarbon dating.
In Trench T, Ben and his team are doing the final planning of the “pointless pits”. These have been cleaned out and thoroughly examined, although continuing to reveal less than zero knowledge of their function.
The next step, which may begin tomorrow, is to remove the midden deposits which hide some of the elements which could (fingers crossed) reveal the vestiges of what might be a robbed-out chambered tomb.
That is the hope, although hard, cold reality may deliver a different verdict.
Until then . . .
From the Trenches
I am Karen Wallis and have just completed my first week as artist in residence on the Ness.
Having arrived deliberately uncluttered by preconceptions, the initial impact was a sense of the enormous scale of the dig and its overwhelming complexity.
My first five days have been pure exploration, collecting drawings, colour notes and sounds, with subjects chosen randomly, from anything that caught my eye or ear.
As the week progressed, I began getting to know people and how they work, and have now drawn two portraits. However, I need to find some direction and address the big question: What am I doing here? My long-term aim is to investigate the potential role for an artist in archaeological research – and whether what I do can be useful.
Looking back over the week’s activity and conversations, it seems that perhaps my function is to carry out another form of archaeology – uncovering a layer of overlooked activity, which runs alongside the excavation. This is the thought I will carry into the next week.
To see my daily blog of drawings and thoughts, visit https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/ness-of-brodgar-artists-residency.