Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Day Thirty-Two

And it has been yet another very wet day that prevented any excavation at the Ness – I think next year we will have to move the site to sunnier climes, like the south of France.

However, to cheer you up, here are some more photos of the wondrous decorated stone, reported on yesterday, and a number-crunching blog from Jo.

The first rays of the sun to illuminate the stone in 5,000 years.

The first rays of the sun to illuminate the new Structure Eight stone in 5,000 years.

Antonia carefully recording the stone in situ prior to its removal yesterday.

Antonia carefully recording the stone in situ prior to its removal yesterday.

Number crunching

Hello from the Ness.

My name is Jo and this is my third season digging here.

I come from Kent and work in London, and the Ness feels an awful long way from Silicon Roundabout, on the city fringes, where the pace of work and life is frenetic. It’s just busy here, too, though. Just in a different way.

Tyres, sandbags and tarps.

Tyres, sandbags and tarps.

In the course of almost eight weeks, archaeologists, volunteers and students — around 80 on site at any one time — have shifted more than 2,500 tyres, 900 sandbags and 50-plus tarpaulins from the site, repeating the performance with a lesser number of tyres, tarps and sandbags, as parts of the site were covered and uncovered for photographs and visiting film crews.

In just over a week from now, the tyres, sandbags and tarps will all go back on again to cover the site for the winter.

The weather hasn’t always been kind.

There were 42mph gusts of wind in the early weeks and rain fell in buckets — which was then was sponged out of the puddles in the structures and into the buckets of the site. Many times.

One of Roy's many tours.

One of Roy’s many tours.

It didn’t deter the visitors. There were a total of 140 site tours, 72 of which were given by Roy, meaning he spoke to Ness visitors for a minimum of 84 hours (more than three days solid. Lozenge, Roy?)

Taking an average of 40 people per tour (sometimes there were more than 70), around 5,000 visitors listened to Roy and the Rangers talk about the Ness in all weathers.

John, a regular visitor from the Isle of Man, who probably knows as much about the site as we do.

John, a regular visitor from the Isle of Man, who probably knows as much about the site as we do.

Many others came and just enjoyed the site, visiting the shop and watching the excavation unfold. I’d like to make a special mention here of John, one of our regular visitors, who comes from the Isle of Man and spends many days each year observing the dig.

There’s a lot to watch.

As of this year the archaeologists have uncovered a surface area of 1,265 square metres in Trench P and 285 square metres in Trench T. Likely just less than ten per cent of what lies underground.

Within that area they have found something approaching 5,000 individual pieces of pot, bone, worked stone and flint, plus beautiful axes and some really enigmatic pebbles. All the finds are marked and surveyed in position on an hourly basis (almost every one by surveyor Mark and his student Beth).

The biggest find — aside from uncovering new aspects of the structures themselves — was Jan’s magnificent pecked stone from Structure Ten. Measuring over half a metre by more than 30 cm, it has a beautiful curved edge and would have formed part of the interior decoration of the building.

A bone spread.

A bone spread. Bags and tags must be written for each bone before they are surveyed in 3D and lifted.

Among the smallest finds were a puppy’s milk tooth (identified by former vet Chris and probably lost while the puppy was gnawing on one of the many animal bones found in the area) and two lovely stone beads.

So much pot has come out of the site that last year alone the sherds filled 24 museum-size boxes.

This year’s tally has not yet been assessed but it amounts to what is probably the biggest grooved ware assemblage ever likely to be found.

Another important finds category on the Ness is “foreign stone”.

This exotic-sounding term refers to the non-structural rock that didn’t originate on the Ness but was bought in from other parts of Orkney, and possibly further afield, to make tools, fire stones, pigments and as “objects of wonder” —­– lovely things in beautiful colours that would have caught the attention of the people of the Ness.

Martha, the Ness rock expert, has identified basalt from Hoy and Deerness, rhyolite from Stromness and camptonite dyke rock from the West Mainland.

Eight-hundred and fifty pieces have come in from all trenches this year. All washed, categorized, bagged and boxed then put on to a database.

We’ve also gathered a mighty quantity of midden in buckets.

Alice planning stones in the Central Midden Area.

Alice planning stones in the Central Midden Area.

These are environmental samples that will go through a flotation process to tease out charcoal, charred grains (which can be used to obtain radiocarbon dates) and any tiny bones that survive.

On site we only fill the buckets and fill out the labels. The hard work goes on back at the college, where Cecily runs every sample through her wet-sieving machine.

All areas are drawn. Two-hundred drawings have been made so far and many more will be made over the next week as planning really gets into gear. Add to that 1,400 photographs.

This is just a small percentage of the work that will continue once the eight-week season is over.

Post-excavation work goes on all year, both in Orkney and in other parts of the world as experts examine the data they have gathered here.

It’s rigorous work, undertaken in all conditions but, despite the cold, the damp, the context numbers (which I’ve not even mentioned), the sharpie tattoos and the fretting, the Ness remains, for all of us, an utterly magical place and one that I hope many more people will have the opportunity to visit in the coming years.

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