Dig Diary – Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day Nine

Structure Twelve and the central midden area from Hugo's kite camera.

Structure Twelve and the central midden area from Hugo’s kite camera.

The latest polished stone spatula from Structure Eight, modelled by Andy.

The latest polished stone spatula from Structure Eight, modelled by Andy.

Too hot? In Orkney?

We must admit it. Many of us have listened to the stories of colleagues who have worked in wonderful sunny countries like Greece or Jordan, Italy or Portugal and thought how wonderful it would be to excavate in a warm place.

How wrong we were.

The weather here at the Ness (yes, the weather again) is positively tropical and, for northern persons, just a bit too tropical at that.

If you think we exaggerate, just refer to Kaitlin (below), who is sweltering and sunburnt, and who comes from Orange County, California, for heaven’s sake.

It may be hot, but the wonderful archaeology at the Ness is, after five thousand years or so, quite indifferent to such concerns. It continues to give, and in abundance.

The star of the show, at the moment, is Structure Eight. At long, long last the central baulk is being removed and the optical effect of this is quite transforming. Eight looks huge. In fact it is some 20 metres long by nine metres wide making it one of the very biggest structures on site.

It continues to uphold its reputation as containing some of the finest artefacts we have found.

Working on top of the baulk, Andy has just unearthed another beautiful polished stone spatula, making it the third from the structure.

It is slightly shorter than its predecessors but every bit as handsome, with exactly the same attention to the fine detail of finishing as was evident on the earlier spatulas.

We should probably explain the name. In fact, a spatula looks very like a large spoon, but the bowl end is not as concave as on a spoon. Perhaps it was used for smoothing something. Pottery would be a good bet.

The unravelling of the floors of Structure Fourteen continues.

The unravelling of the floors of Structure Fourteen continues.

Elsewhere in Structure Eight, the large burnt heap is three-quarters gone. The remaining quarter will be retained for the next visit of archaeomagnetic specialist Cathy Batt from Bradford University.

Unfortunately, this will not be until next year.

In Structure Fourteen, work continues on disentangling the numerous floor levels. The yellow clay floor has turned out to represent many different events, highlighting once more the difficulties of understanding what went on at the Ness in the Neolithic.

In the central midden area, there are crucial relationship issues to be resolved.

Removal of the midden heap has revealed numerous walls from possibly three different structures, although the last one appears to use completely different building techniques from the others.

More generally in that area, site director Nick is contemplating returning to the good old technique used frequently by the famous archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler at his excavations in India and elsewhere.

Nick explains that excavating such a complex area by stratigraphic methods alone is likely to drive all those involved to therapy, or at the very least a darkened room. Wheeler quadrants will allow the identification of general trends and the technique could be perfect for the Ness. It went out of use in archaeology generally for no other reason than fashion.

In Structure Ten, the removal of the robber fill in the east main front wall continues with the aim of showing what remains of the wall. And around the rest of the inner central area of Structure Ten several sondages have been opened to reveal more of the fill of the robber cut.

Some of the happy Willamette team in Trench T.

Some of the happy Willamette team in Trench T.

The Willamettes are working hard in the expanded area of Trench T, which is revealing much the same pattern as in the earlier trench. There may be some slight, but significant differences, however, but more of that later.

Hugo’s amazing kite photography kit (the Flying Mattress) has made its first appearance of the season. The quality of photography from the camera suspended underneath is magnificent. It is important, however, to keep hold of Hugo. We are not sure if he can swim and the lochs are very close.

We shall stop here. What looks like steam is issuing gently from the back of the computer monitor, or it may be coming from your diarist. More tomorrow.

From the Trenches


Kaitlin O’Neill

Hello! My name is Kaitlin and I am a student from Willamette University majoring in Anthropology and Archaeology.

This is my first dig and I have been working in trench T. I started off working near an area that has been nicknamed The Crack of Doom (due to the fact it is a long crack that formed in the trench last year and we are unable to see what lies under the crack) but I moved to another section that was recently opened up of which we are now uncovering a wall.

Today I found a few pieces of worked stone and some bones, but I found a piece of flint a few days ago which was exciting.

Something else that has been quite exciting is the wonderful sunny weather that has graced our site over the last few days.

I am originally from Orange County, California so I am not unaccustomed to the sun, but the cloudless skies have caused a few sunburns and generated a renewed respect for sunscreen by my trenchmates and I.

Although this weather is gorgeous and highlights the beauty of the Orkney landscape, I wish the clouds would come back to cool things off a little and reduce the amount of sun burns I am getting!

So far I really like digging and have learned so much in the short time I have been on site (my university arrived on site the 21st).

I have an interest in the Neolithic Era in the British Isles and, given the density of Neolithic sites in the Orkneys, I thought the Ness would be the perfect place to learn about them.

The lecture given last night by Professor Jane Downes on the archaeological history of Orkney was greatly informative on the background while my experiences in the trenches has helped improve my artefact identification skills and vastly improved my digging abilities.

It was a bit intimidating coming to such an important site as my first dig, but everyone here has been wonderfully welcoming, helpful, and friendly, which has eased those concerns and made me feel right at home.

My amazing trench supervisors (Ben, Keir, and Mai) have patiently answered my plethora of questions on identifying rocks, pottery, bones, tools, etc and have already helped me improve my digging technique immensely. Given the amazing experiences I have had thus far, I look forward to learning and improving more, continuing my work in the trenches, and finally determining what is under the Crack of Doom!

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