From the Art Hut – finding finds…

By Karen Wallis

During my first season as Artist in Residence, I was impressed by the range of what could be termed a “find” – from decorated stone on the walls, through the many different artefacts, to floor deposits. Initially I drew interesting things like the impressive skua-morph pot that Roy showed me, not knowing quite how it would fit into my project.

Knowing my interest in colour, Jo Bourne introduced me to some burnt stone and more significantly, the world of floor deposits. The mound in a corner of Structure Eight had similar colours to a hearth a few yards away, implying that Neolithic hands had dumped what they had cleared away there.

This action 5,000 years ago gave the key to my interest in finds. I have already said in my week 3 blog that my residency is about people not things. Here I want to talk about the relationship of things to people – in two different ways. 

First there is the buzz that people get in associating with an artefact from the past. Speaking of my own experience it is a link through hands.  It began with the realisation that the Neolithic people were doing housework, followed by my first physical connection.

The little piece of fired clay alongside my drawing of the skeuomorph pot has a pattern underneath it and a hole on the upper side.

Imagine my excitement on discovering that my forefinger fitted the hole exactly where a Neolithic finger might have pressed the little stamp down to make an impression.

The following season, a worked stone was found that could have been used for making marks on a wall.  It fitted my hand perfectly as an ergonomic drawing implement. What is more, it can be used in either hand. There is an indent for the thumb of my right hand and a different indent beside that for my left thumb.

Then there is a working end where the stone is softer and makes a darker mark than the non-business end, which is harder and scratchier. To hold this “crayon” and know that a Neolithic hand had also used it to draw was the biggest thrill.

A few days later I was shown a small piece of flint with the sharpest edge and two indentations for finger and thumb. Could that be a knife from the art box? 

Leaving aside these moments of personal rapture the other relationship with finds that plays a role in my artist’s research is the human involvement in the archaeological process. There is the obvious excitement, that extends throughout the trench when an axe or macehead is found. These come out of the ground and reveal their full beauty as soon as they are washed. 

But other finds are more delicate, like bone or pot, which can disintegrate as they are lifted. Pottery is particularly fragile and difficult to excavate, especially when it closely resembles the surrounding earth. Last year, I watched Ceridwen painstakingly trowelling around the scattered shards of an enormous pot in Trench X, which eventually came out in yet more pieces.

In addition there is the probability that this large pot had been dropped – and whether or not that was a deliberate Neolithic action. Whatever the object there is always the question of why was something made, put or left there, and what was its function. The relationship with finds that I find most fascinating is how today’s archaeologists are attempting to hear what the Neolithic is saying to them – and those little glimpses of recognition that never quite tell the whole story.

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