Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Day Three

The last of the sandbags are removed from Structure Ten.

The last of the sandbags are removed from Structure Ten.

Farewell, old friend . . .

Today was a momentous day at the Ness.

Not just because it stopped raining (more or less), but because a major transformation took place on site.

A momentous occasion in the history of the site as Nick cuts through the waterpipe!

A momentous occasion in the history of the site as Nick cuts through the water pipe!

For years, we have had to put up with the infamous water pipe, which runs right across the middle of the site.

This was done gladly, for it was the water supply of Ola and Arnie Tait, who own the field in which the site is situated, and who have been so good to us over many years.

In a sense, it was a real nuisance because it disrupted the recognition of relationships on either side and required careful sandbagging, and lagging, every year, to make sure that it wasn’t fractured by frost.

Site photographs were not exactly enhanced by its wavering grey line in the middle of every image.

There were, however, some positive points.

It provided a running section across the site, which allowed some interesting insights, and the midden baulk which supported it was extensively sampled. By and large, though, everyone longed for its departure.

Now it has gone.

Thanks to good work by Orkney Islands Council and Scottish Water, a new water supply has been connected to the Tait farmhouse. With appropriate ceremony, and accompanied by raucous cheers from the diggers, the first section of pipe was cut, ready for removal. Hurrah!

Elsewhere, work continued on the removal of the last sandbags which was so seriously delayed by the heavy rain on Tuesday.

Apart from the precious structure floors, which will remain protected by plastic, the site is finally revealed and is looking absolutely marvellous.

A 'spring clean' under way around the central standing stone.

A ‘spring clean’ under way around the central standing stone.

Cleaning and tidying work has started and the first serious digging is now taking place. This has allowed site director Nick to have some deep discussions with his supervisors to clarify plans for the forthcoming weeks.

It also means that Anne, in the finds hut, has had to redouble her organisational efforts to prepare for the expected influx of finds of all sorts.

She is fully capable of herding cats, or any other mammals, including diggers, so this should not be a problem.

We would only encourage all diggers to listen carefully to her instructions, or else!

As ever at the Ness, there are a host of associated activities taking place.

One of the most important this year is a three-day course exploring the issues raised by the conjunction of art and archaeology.

This is led by our own Professor Jane Downes and Anne Bevan of Orkney College, with input by PhD student, and long-time Ness archaeologist, Antonia Thomas. They will be on site and holding workshops in Kirkwall and Stromness.

We also want to thank an old friend and a most generous, but anonymous, couple.

A new collective adjective - a 'huddle' of tourists, as they gather round Roy on the first tour of the season.

A new collective adjective – a ‘huddle’ of tourists, as they gather round Roy on the first tour of the season.

Daniel Laud works in the hospitality department of Orkney College.

He is also probably the best baker on the planet.

Despite the anxieties caused by a sudden illness in his family, Daniel insisted on sending us a magnificent load of homebaking.

We won’t go into details, or every cake-hound in Orkney will be haunting the site for scraps. Suffice to say that his orange-and-honey drizzle cake is sublime and utterly relevant for an archaeological site as he uses bere meal — an ancient grain — in the recipe, which transported everyone back in time on a waft of honeyed orange.

Nick is also furious with himself (and so he should be) for forgetting to ask the names of a wonderful couple, who suddenly arrived on site with a large bag of edible goodies for the diggers.

Such generosity is never underestimated as it takes the edge of some very hard physical work and brings a smile to faces. We don’t know the identity of these good people, but we want to thank them very much.

Were there any other visitors to site?

More than a few. Our first three site tours took place and they were heavily subscribed. We thank them for coming and for their acute questions.

In the site shop, Annabel reports that the new guidebook is selling like the proverbial hot cakes.

Ken's discovery - a fired-clay ball.

Ken’s discovery – a fired-clay ball.

We may have to think about a reprint, much sooner than anticipated.

See you all tomorrow.


First find of the season made and a very nice one at that. Ken, one of our museum trainees, while cleaning up the trench edge was rewarded by a very nice clay ball. Several of these have been discovered at the Ness over the years — what were they used for? — your guess is as good as ours!

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