Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Day Twelve

The hills of Hoy, reflected in a mirror-like Loch of Stenness.

The hills of Hoy, reflected in a mirror-like Loch of Stenness.

What a difference a day makes . . .

The protective sheets are brought into play in Trench T - but today it was to provide a shadow-free environment for photographs.

The protective sheets are brought into play in Trench T – but today it was to provide a shadow-free environment for photographs.

We have no idea how hot it got at the Ness today. Suffice to say that it was horribly hot, whether in Fahrenheit or Centigrade.

Regular readers will have noticed that thus far this season we have said very little about the weather. This is because we have had complaints –  yes, real complaints – about excessive weather reports in previous seasons.

Such things just bounce off the thick skin of seasoned diarists and so, if we think you require a weather report, you will jolly well get one. So there!

Tantrum over, we will carry on with more meteorological moments.

It really was particularly lovely this morning, as the waters of the lochs glistened and Hoy rose majestically above the heat haze. Swans paddled lazily and fluffy little clouds drifted across the azure sky.

Oh, and down on the ground the archaeology continued.

The quernstone fragment from Structure Fourteen.

The quernstone fragment from Structure Fourteen.

Interesting things were happening in Structure Fourteen, where Hugo is continuing to excavate and expand the sondage where he discovered the very old (c.3600-3300BC) modified carinated bowl a couple of years ago.

It is a complicated task as there are what seem to be floor deposits, but not necessarily in the position they should be.

Just a couple of metres away is one of Hugo’s favourite Structure Fourteen features – a block of stone which appears to have been placed as a seat beside the hearth.

Robert, one of the new recruits to the structure, was deputed to move it, but when he turned it over it was revealed as a broken piece of quernstone.

This is exciting enough as it is now one of only three quernstones from the site.

However, from the depths of his sondage, Hugo noticed a similar stone in nearby Structure Sixteen. When he felt underneath it he realised that it, too, may be a broken quernstone.

Could it be that the two stones are actually one and will fit together? We will tell you tomorrow.

On the subject of promises, we have hinted at something important happening on site.

It is still happening, so revelations will have to wait for another day – perhaps tomorrow or later. Watch this space.

Jim explains the sampling procedure in Structure Twelve to the new arrivals.

Jim explains the sampling procedure in Structure Twelve to the new arrivals.

In Structure Twelve, this morning, Jim was explaining the complexities (some might say horrors) of the floor sampling procedures taking place there.

Ken, Tim and Amanda, three new recruits today, were the recipients of this information and their faces registered a spectrum of emotion, ranging from shock to contemplation of flight.

By this afternoon, the trio were much happier and work was progressing swimmingly.

Back at Archaeology Institute HQ in Kirkwall, Cecily, our flotation expert, who processes and examines samples collected on site, had some exciting information.

Working her way through a sample from Structure Ten, she discovered another small stone bead. We haven’t seen it yet but any Neolithic bead is a lovely find.

In Trench T, on the far side of Lochview and running down to the side of the Stenness Loch, work is still progressing on examining the last of the “pointless pits”.

This is necessary work but until it is completed Ben and his team cannot start the task of removing that part of the edge of the midden mound which is obscuring the intriguing features we can only glimpse at the moment.

Another contingent of diggers arrived today and were introduced to the glories of the Ness. We were also joined by the first group of young Excavation Club members and they, too, were introduced to digging. They seemed to enjoy it and, even if they may not want to be archaeologists in the future, they will still have a better idea about what we do.

Karen, our artist in residence.

Karen, our artist in residence.

A new member of the team is Karen Wallis, who will be our artist-in-residence. She will be here for several weeks, sketching, photographing and recording what goes on and the results of her work can be found on her own blog here.

And so we end with more weather. It is often a feature of beautiful days in Orkney that they are followed by lousy ones, just to keep us on our toes.

Thunder and lightning are forecast for tonight and rain for tomorrow. We will be here, but whether we will be digging or not is unknown. We will, however, tell you tomorrow . . . and give more fascinating details about the weather.

Until then . . . but before we forget a special thanks today to the Stenness Garage and Wilson’s Wholesale, in Stromness, for providing some gratefully received ice-creams for the team – much appreciated

From the Trenches

Olga hard at work in the site's pottery room.

Olga hard at work in the site’s pottery room.

Hello! My name is Olga Palacios and I have just finished my undergraduate in archaeology at Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB).

My main interest is in prehistoric pottery and, specifically, I would like to focus my career studying the technological properties of the pots.

So, to acquire more experience and learn about other techniques and methods to study the pottery, I have come to the Heart of Neolithic Orkney with this purpose.

ORCA has provided me with the great opportunity to study the pottery of the Ness of Brodgar, for a four-month period, as part of an internship.

I arrived in Orkney at the beginning of June and since then have learnt an incredible amount of things about this amazing place.

During my first two weeks here, I worked with Roy Towers, the pottery specialist, in the pottery laboratory at UHI, analysing the Trench T’s pottery sherds from the last two years. It was amazing because I had the opportunity to work with some well-preserved Grooved Ware pots, which they even had sooting and residues attached on their surfaces!

The first happy contingent of the Excavation Club on site today.

The first happy contingent of the Excavation Club on site today.

This is so surprising for me because in Spain, as the majority of south and centre Europe, the preservation is very bad and it is almost impossible to find a residue.

Another thing that makes the pottery of the Ness of Brodgar so unique for me is the fact that some of the sherds are painted and, again, the colours are preserved!

Moreover, some of the pots are beautifully decorated with incised and applied decoration that is clear evidence of the great specialization of the Neolithic potters.

Another great experience, was working in the broch at The Cairns, in South Ronaldsay, which is directed by Martin Carruthers.

It was an amazing experience for me in all the senses because it was the first time that I was in a broch and it was also the first time that I analysed pots from the Iron Age. I immersed myself completely in the Iron Age because not only did I do the description and the classification of the pottery, but I also excavated in there!

The second batch of Excavation Club members,

The second batch of Excavation Club members,

One really amazing thing was that we found a pot, almost complete, with a boiled stone inside it!

It is very rare to find in situ artefacts like this, so all of us were very excited with the find and, for me, it was a great challenge to dig it under the rain – I have not get used to it yet.

Since the first day of the Ness of Brodgar, I  done different tasks.

I have dug in Trench X –  a very interesting area of the site uncovered this year.

Although the walls haven’t come to light completely yet, we found midden, which is very exciting because it contains a huge amount of broken bones and a lot of sherds.

However, a couple of days ago, I started to work with the pottery of Trench P, with Roy Towers.

At the moment, I am doing a description of every sherd found and it is very interesting because it allows me to understand better the characteristics of the pots and the differences between its manufacture processes.

Another thing that I am doing is “digging” the pots that are found, which means to remove the midden that it is attached to the pot. This is absolutely thrilling because you have to be able to identify what is pot and what is not and, moreover, be very careful to not break it.

I am very excited with this experience because it is a great opportunity for my career.

The pottery from Orkney is really interesting and the fact that it is very well-preserved, permits a lot of studies and different approximations be made. Specifically, the pottery of the Ness of Brodgar is unique for its context and decorative and technical aspects and there are a lot of questions that have not been answered yet.

Fortunately, I have another two-and-a-half months to learn even more about this amazing place!

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