Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Day Seven

‘Ask Anne!’

One of the late pits being emptied in Trench T. Note the careful use of a mattock.

The weather at the Ness is beautiful and Trench T is also rolling along beautifully. 

The team at this newish and exciting trench had an infusion today of our own University of the Highlands and Islands students, most of whom have never excavated, or in some cases, even seen an archaeological trench.

This is usually sufficient to bring on panic attacks in trench supervisors, but Dave, Colin and Rick have been pleasantly surprised at the natural ability of the students.

They have emptied one of the later pits and are showing useful skills in recognising that the difference between contexts can be as much a matter of feel and texture as colour.

By the end of today it is possible that a start may be made on removing some of the midden still in place over elements of the huge and mysterious Structure Twenty-Seven.

Elsewhere in Trench T, lines of walling which appear to have no relation to anything else continued to appear.

Sarah wasn’t too pleased with today’s strong sunshine. She is in Structure Ten and, as supervisor, is carefully examining the floors.

Jim checks the records for one of the slot trenches though the floors of Structure Twelve.

Unfortunately, the sun is so strong that she is blinded, despite the presence of her new sunhat which, against all the odds, is still clean. Seeking employment, she has moved over to join Claire who is excavating the midden within the structure which lies over Structure Twenty-Six.

Sarah began by wielding a mattock, which is a distinctly heavy-duty tool, but which, if swung delicately like the pendulum of a clock, can be highly effective.

So effective that she quickly uncovered a large piece of pot with a scalloped rim and what appears to be exterior cordon decoration.

In Structure Twelve, Jim  and his team are continuing to examine the newly cleaned floor and the sondage which were carefully excavated last year.

Once this task is complete they will be able to sample and remove the floor deposits.

We often point out to visitors that the Neolithic was not grey and boring but lively and colourful. Structure Eight is driving home the message as Jo Bourne, archaeologist and book editor, has arrived on site with a new red boiler suit, which matches her hair and lipstick.

Our own Lady in Red – Jo Bourne active in Structure Eight.

More seriously, she is continuing to make her own photographic of the structure in which she has worked in recent years.

And now, as promised yesterday, our excursion to the Dubai fish market.

Archaeology is a wonderfully diverse study, with those involved often knowledgeable about several different scientific techniques together with a smattering of anthropology, ethnography and how to move wheelbarrows without risking a hernia.

At the Ness, much of this comes together in one woman – Anne, the Finds Supervisor.

She has to know bits of everything and, who amongst our regular readers in years past, can forget her cure for filthy windows, which involves a noxious substance containing either vodka or whisky (exact details are secret).

“Ask Anne” is the regular reply to questions, but even site director Nick was astonished on Monday to find that she had been asked by the developers of Dubai’s spanking new fishmarket to advise on whether fresh or salt water was better for sluicing down the premises at the end of the day.

The answer is either, although de-salinated fresh water is expensive in Dubai and spraying the contents of The Creek (local waterway) would be a lot cheaper.

Some of you may not believe this story, but it is true.

We are off now to “Ask Anne” how often camel’s toenails need trimming. If we survive the encounter we will be back tomorrow.

Until then…

From the Trenches

Sarah and Claire reveal the large slab of scalloped rimmed pottery.

I begin writing this entry, conscious of the beautiful accounts that some of my friends and peers have written about the Ness over the years.

They have left me an extremely high benchmark to reach. Over the last few years I have been moved by these descriptions of the great meaning and personal sentiment that accompanies the often frankly incommunicable feeling that the Ness of Brodgar and the people involved with it evoke. 

 It is with these such accounts in mind that when devising the project for my Masters placement, first of all there was no way on earth I could bear to be doing it anywhere other than at the Ness and secondly I wanted to explore some of these thoughts and feelings that the excavation of the site clearly inspires.

 So People, Place & Perception came to be three important elements behind my project in which I am recording a series of episodic “dig diary” entries filmed at site which will document and share all of the crucial and remarkable research through social media and on the Ness of Brodgar website.  

 In addition, I will be talking to and interviewing members of the site team, our migratory (and permanent) experts, other associated parties such as the Historic Environment Scotland Rangers and lastly the wider public and our site visitors. 

 It is my sole aim and intention that through this placement and with everything I hope to accomplish, this will be my own personal way of “doing the Ness justice” which is a truly phenomenal driving force of motivation for myself and the countless individuals who share my love and sense of duty to this incredible place.

One of our post grads, Jim Bright, takes a series of record shots of the new pot, ready for 3D imagery. More on Jim and his work in a later blog.

Looking ahead to the two open days at the Ness – July 16 and August 20 – I would like to speak to as many visitors as possible and acquire their perceptions. See what I did there?

If you would definitely be interested in speaking with me then please come and find me. I will no doubt be wandering around the site with a tiny camera strapped to my chest and a notebook!

For me, the Ness has no parallels and is an ever-growing enigma which both perplexes and astounds in equal measure.

It has been a great privilege to be involved with this excavation for seven of the last eight years, spending the ten months between the seasons missing and craving it severely.

There is a worthy sense of addiction and obligation to see the project through for as long as humanly possible so, for me, the last year spent living and studying in Orkney has allowed me to spend the entirety of the 2016 and 2017 seasons here and has been the greatest privilege to date!

 So keep an eye out for the videos, they will be shared through the UHI Archaeology Institute’s YouTube channel and Facebook as well as being available in the Dig Diary tab on this website.

In the meantime, I urge anyone reading to get out to the Ness if you can, come and share with us what will undoubtedly be yet another unforgettable season.

Simon Gray

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