Dig Diary – Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Day Seven

A busy day and a hot one

Hugo demonstrates his skill as a flint knapper to an enthralled audience from the excavation club.

Hugo demonstrates his skill as a flint knapper to an enthralled young audience from the excavation club.

The sun has sizzled down on the Ness from early morning and now, as we prepare to finish off the day, it is still sunny and hot.

The weather has caused some problems on site today.

Relax, this is not our usual whine about how uncomfortable it is and how hard is the life of an archaeologist. The unusual weather, and the effect it is having on the water supply in the West Mainland of Orkney, is now possibly the cause of some strange effects on our equipment.

Reid, from Willamette University, is taking archaeomagnetic samples for dating. British archaeologists usually use a type of resin for consolidating the samples, but Reid is following the American technique and is trying to encase them in plaster.

This is a perfectly solid technique, but his plaster won’t set.

Even in today’s temperatures the water is separating from the plaster in a way not seen before.

Could this be something to do with the mineral content of the water, and, beyond that, with the peculiar problems of the water supply currently being pumped around the West Mainland of Orkney?

At least one of us can point to a bowl of soup, made to a tried and tested recipe for many years, which started to foam last week. Others complain of a most unusual taste from the water. We know that the water authorities are working on the problem but Reid has now been sent to find some bottled water. We will let you know if that works.

As if maceheads were not enough for Jenny, she now displays her new bead.

As if maceheads were not enough for Jenny, she now displays her new bead.

The other effect is on the wrists of diggers.

As the midden and soil hardens there is a jarring effect from trowels which can be quite sore after a time and the only solution is to dig carefully and gently.

The excavation club for youngsters visited site today.

Martha (below) is correct. It is important to inform and involve people in the archaeology, whether local or visitors.

The twelve youngsters seemed to have a good time. After induction into safety rules they were given instruction in trowelling and then settled down to some serious supervised excavation on the south exterior of Structure Twelve.

As happens every year, pottery began to emerge from these contexts, and their efforts were followed by a flint knapping demonstration from Hugo. A different group will visit next Tuesday.

Artefacts continue to flow into the finds hut.

Andy found a worked stone bead in the baulk in Structure Eight which he is dismantling. In the central midden, Jenny found another very similar bead. In fact, they both look very like the beads found last year, also in the central midden. We can imagine a Neolithic man/woman lamenting the loss of their valuable beads.


Graham displays his polished stone axe.

A beautiful polished stone axe has emerged from the base of the new sondage in Trench T.

It is handsomely banded and mottled and was found by Willamette student Graham on his first day of archaeological digging. He is normally to be found excavating dinosaur bones back home and site director Nick commented ruefully that he had been digging for fifteen years before he found one.

The burnt heap in Structure Eight is now the focus of  archaeomagnetic dating (if it works) after careful recording by Joanne, and her efforts were carefully watched by a large crowds of visitors from the viewing platform, now thankfully in operation after being closely scrutinised by Health and Safety.

Again, we want to thank Caz Mamwell for the wonderfully successful internet appeal, which she organised in order to secure funding for the platform this year. We also want to thank the many, many friends in Orkney and around the world who so generously contributed the necessary £2,000 in just two days.

In Structure Ten, the removal of the east baulk through the robber trench adjacent to the presumed entrance has uncovered a huge slab of stone. It appears to go all the way underneath the baulk and if this is so it will be some two metres long and at least 12 centimetres thick. Could this be another possible foundation stone? Only more excavation will tell.

We had surprising visitors today. The wonderful catering lecturer Daniel Laud, from Orkney College, arrived to cheers and carrying a very large cake, which sent sugar levels and spirits soaring.

In the morning, we were visited by Jeremy Paxman, late of Newsnight and apparently conducting some research on Orkney. He very kindly sponsored a square of the site but declined a tour, to the huge relief of the archaeologist tour guide. Imagine the questions he might have asked. See you tomorrow.

Joanne finishes recording the burnt mound in Structure Eight before it is sampled for archaeomagnetic dating.

Joanne finishes recording the burnt mound in Structure Eight before it is sampled for archaeomagnetic dating.

From the Trenches

Martha Craven

Martha Craven

Well, hello everyone! You will have to excuse the poor quality of this blog entry, I’m afraid I am no literary genius.

My name is Martha Craven and I am about to start my third, and final, year of my undergraduate degree at Cambridge University. My particular interests lie in the application of scientific methods within the field of archaeology, such as isotopic and genetic analysis.

I am attending this excavation as part of a required four week “excavation experience” module, and boy am I glad I chose this site!

This is the first time I have worked on an excavation that is Neolithic in date and I have to say I have been absolutely blown away by what is being uncovered. I am typically used to simplistic and relatively bare sites and so the complexity and richness of the Ness of Brodgar is a much welcomed change of pace!

I am currently working on a niche in the S.W corner of Structure Fourteen and even within this small cove I have been faced with a complex series of deposits and I believe there have been some terribly interesting artefacts that have been previously recovered, including a flint arrowhead!

What has been particularly wonderful about this site, for me, is the impact it has had on the public.

A significant facet of archaeology, in my opinion, is the education of the public. I can certainly say that visiting such sites when I was young was what led me to try and pursue a career in archaeology.

I also believe that for those who live in Orkney, it is so very important to have an understanding of this area’s heritage. I really feel it gives you a whole new appreciation for the area you reside in.

At any rate, that is probably enough rambling on my part!

As a closing statement I will just say that if you have not yet visited the site please do so as soon as possible and if you already have then come again – there is always something exciting waiting under the soil.

You may also like...