Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Day Seventeen

Cleaning in Structure 8 - a race against the elements.

Cleaning in Structure Eight – a race against the elements. (ORCA)

And the rains have cleared – hoorah!

It’s not quite a balmy and sultry day, but at least it’s mainly dry and waterproofs have been replaced by just windproof clothes.

Today, Thomas and Ian, from the geophysics unit, brought along the analysed results from the refined geophysics survey undertaken yesterday.

Quite clearly, the northern boundary wall of the site, the “Great Wall of Brodgar”, does extend, just as Nick had predicted, and as it did, at its north-eastern end, it also curves around at its south-western end, along the shore of Stenness Loch.

Another ‘cathedral’?

The geophysics, though, not only confirmed the extension of the wall but also has shown that other structures, previously not discernible in the lower-resolution survey, exist between the present trench and the northern boundary wall.

Unfortunately, one of our spoil tips prevented completion of the survey but Structure Ten may have a twin!  There are indications that another, very large, structure could be present on the Ness – so watch this space as the results are further refined!

Racing against the elements

As we hinted in Friday’s diary, Structure Eight was moving rapidly to the position where it would be ready for a major photographic session, before the work of planning and recording in detail begins.

That point should have been reached yesterday, but the appalling weather made that impossible and imposed incredible pressure on the Structure Eight team to finish the cleaning process as fast as possible.

By Herculean efforts, and the help of diggers from other areas of the site, this was accomplished today — but it was a close shave.

The photographic tower was only erected in front of the structure after 4pm today and Dave began the process of climbing up, in a stiff wind, to take the photographic record.

In some ways, a wobbly ladder is a more comforting piece of equipment to climb. At least with a ladder, some sturdy diggers can be placed round the base of the ladder to hold it tight. Holding on to a photographic tower is not recommended.

Nick is ultra cautious about such things, having been hit by a falling tower in the past. Everyone has to stand well back and members of the public are not allowed anywhere near.

But it was well worth it, as Structure Eight looked absolutely fantastic – a real credit to Dave and his team.

Structure 8 cleaned and ready for official site photos.

Job done. Structure Eight cleaned and ready for official site photos. (ORCA)

Hugo's corner of site with informative baulks being removed.

Hugo’s corner of site with informative baulks being removed. (ORCA)

In Structure Fourteen, numerous baulks of earth – these are left in particular places to inform us of the sequence of deposits and aid in their understanding – were recorded and removed (pictured above) and more of the wall lines were revealed.

Claire investigates the deposits under the large flagstone.

Claire investigates the deposits under the large flastone. (ORCA)

Meanwhile, in Structure Ten, Claire got to grips with the huge flagstone that fills the side recess in which she is working.

The flagstone had to come out, but lifting it whole was simply not feasible as it measures 6 ft by 4 ft.

It had to be broken and lifted out in pieces, revealing the earlier flagstone underneath. Unfortunately, it also revealed a rather sticky, glutinous deposit of an as yet unknown nature.

It is not the prettiest thing to look at, and possibly just represents something which has seeped down from above. But it may, on analysis, provide a clue as to the use of this cell.

The huge, central hearth in Structure Ten has been stripped of the final covering layers, by Sarah, and magnetic susceptibility readings taken across it.

The next task will be to section the hearth, by removing material in quadrants. This technique allows a better look at its constituent layers than simply doing a half-section, as it will provide sections both along and across the deposits that fill the hearth.

Structure Twelve is also being cleaned for a major photographic session and removal of the midden/infill is also taking place. There is still what appears to be at least a half-metre still to go, which suggests that the walls of the structure still stand to in excess of a metre in height, as in Structure One.

The Excavation Club of keen youngsters were also digging today, showing huge enthusiasm and clearly enjoying themselves. Places for the young folk are heavily oversubscribed, but it is wonderful to see the level of interest which exists in all that is happening here at the Ness.

From the Trenches

Hi, I’m Natalie and I come from New York City.

Ranger Keith explains the intricacies of the site to the afternoon visitors.

Historic Scotland ranger Keith explains the intricacies of the site to the afternoon visitors. (ORCA)

I have joined the Ness of Brodgar dig on a generous grant from Fund for Teachers, a non-profit organization in America that funds teacher travel.  So I have come to the Ness, not as an archaeologist, but as an American high school social studies teacher, who is learning about archaeology that will inform my curriculum on the Neolithic Era.

The archaeologists on the Ness are digging to find clues about people that lived 5,000 years ago, but, as a teacher, I am equally as interested in what I observe about the people of the past as I am the present day people who are on the site.  My blog post is about some interesting discoveries I have made, not about the site’s original inhabitants, but about today’s.

The most remarkable thing that I have found here is that, although I am one of two teachers on site, I am surrounded by educators.

As I sit, writing this post, I can see a group of about 50 visitors being given a tour by one of the ORCA archaeologists Roy, and just beyond him there is a Historic Scotland ranger leading a group of ten young children through the dos and don’ts of trowelling, as the youngsters anxiously await their first scrape in the dirt.

While these examples of educators might seem obvious, a closer examination illuminates a range of teaching happening all over the site.

My site supervisor, Owen, has been an incredible teacher (although he would never call himself one).  He encourages question asking, never hesitates to demonstrate techniques, and always provides comprehensive explanations, and theories, to what we uncover in the structure. And Owen is not the only supervisor who exhibits these qualities, many others also spend time working diligently with the volunteers.

This tone of teaching is not a coincidence though, it is the precedent set by our site director, Nick Card.

Working at a site that holds such importance to the history of the world, one might expect the director to be inaccessible to students and volunteers, but this is not Nick.

Like a true educator, he leads by example and never hesitates at an opportunity of a teachable moment. He makes a concerted effort to learn everyone’s names and always apologises if he happens to forget.  No finds are insignificant to Nick. He spends time with beginners to explain the importance of our work, even if we have the “least important job” on site.  But I guess that‘s just the thing, there is no “least important job” here.

Nick creates a true sense of community on site – one that is based in inquiry and in education.

Thank you to all the “teachers” I have worked with so far – Martin, Ann, both Dans, Hugo, Julie, Scott, James, Dave, Cecily, and Adam.  And, of course, Owen and Nick.

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