Dig Diary – Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Day Twenty-Eight


Panorama of Trench P today, looking down across Structure Eight with the hills of Hoy in the distance.

 ‘Gruelling, but fantastic’

Marc is joined by Giles and Georgie in the dismantling of the later wall across Structure One.

Work is continuing apace in Structure One, with the removal of the Phase Two curving wall which bisects the building.

We’re proud of our team there, headed by Supervisor Andy and with Giles and Georgie, all of whom are former Masters students at the Archaeology Institute, University of the Highlands and Islands.

Andy is finishing her dissertation and may continue with us, while Giles is involved in commercial archaeology and research in England and Georgie works for Historic Environment Scotland in Edinburgh.

If anyone would like to follow in their footsteps, have a look at the institute website for an idea of the different courses on offer here.

Their work in Structure One is being helped hugely by Jim Bright, another of our current students, who is undertaking 3D modelling of the wall (and other parts of the site) which is already supporting Andy’s work.

She can look at Jim’s incredibly detailed images to refresh her memory of the position of elements of the wall, and also to check on progress.

Jim shows Andy the latest 3D model of the removal of the wall in Structure One.

See https://sketchfab.com/jimbright for more of Jim’s work (including for all those lovers of the site dog, a 3D model of Bryn!)

One of the great fascinations of archaeology is its interdisciplinary nature and especially the wide range of scientific techniques which we bring to bear on the site.

A further example of these can be seen in Structure Eight, where Sam is taking more hearth samples for archaeomagnetic dating for his PhD work at the University of Bradford.

He is working against the clock as he must leave at the weekend, but his ground-breaking research at the Ness and elsewhere is already making a huge contribution to his discipline.

In Trench T, the struggle for understanding continues.

Site director Nick is relatively relaxed about it (well, it depends on which day and phase of the moon you are talking about) and hopes that, by tomorrow, it may all come together again.

Actually, he is thinking it may be next year before we can really get to grips with Structure Twenty-Seven in Trench T, but, in the meantime, a glimpse of the floors would be nice.

The southern hearth in Structure Eight gets the full attention of the team as Sam extracts his samples.

We were visited today by Rachel, the producer of the recent BBC triple-programmes on the Ness and Orkney. She hopes to return some time in the future.

We will be visited tomorrow by a BBC World Television Service who are making a travel programme and who tell us that it will be seen by 350 million people worldwide.

That will certainly bring even more visitors to the Ness next year.

Note to Orkney Islands Councillors: this is yet more evidence of the tremendously beneficial impact the Ness is having on the Orkney economy.


From the Trenches

I’m Sean Weeks. I usually identify as an archaeology student from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, but for these past four weeks, or so, I’ve been a digger at the mysterious Trench X extension.

We de-turfed and excavated the extension in order to find postholes connected to the ones in the main trench.

What started as a simple series of postholes, however, has evolved into something much more interesting.

Today's blogger, Sean.

Today’s blogger, Sean.

Our postholes may still exist, but they’ve been buried under a heap of broken stone and a greyish clay deposit. We suspect that we’ve uncovered the corner of a new building, and that the clay deposit was, in fact, part of a floor which was somewhat preserved by the rubble.

As with anything on this site, many questions remain and there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. After mapping the extension, we plan to seal it up and wait for another team to follow up on it properly.

But enough talk of work.

How has my experience on site been? In a word, fantastic.

In three words: gruelling, but fantastic.

Of course, trowelling from 9-5 isn’t easy, and Orkney’s caprice makes it even more difficult. The weather can change from rain to shine in a heartbeat (indeed, it did so today), yet the heavy winds always persist.

What may be a mere annoyance for islanders becomes a recipe for flooded trenches, sunburn, or both. Mistakes can be both humiliating and catastrophic.

On Tuesday, I took a sketch of the extension and managed to shift every object within it ninety degrees. Oops!

At the same time, I labour under the supervision of two of the best supervisors a field student can have: Anne and Colin.

The Ness demands diligence, attention to detail, and a high level of competency: archaeologists have to switch between menial tasks and intellectual problems at a moment’s notice. At the day’s close, you leave the site with a sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and confidence.

I want to thank Colin and Anne, but I also want thank my teacher Scott Pike for organising this trip for my fellow Willamette students and me.

I’d recommend it to anyone without hesitation.

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