Dig Diary – Thursday, July 21, 2011


Day Four

STOP PRESS – as seems to happen every day five minutes just before we pack up, something extraordinary turns up – today another painted stone! More to follow tomorrow!

Another painted stone.

Another painted stone. (ORCA)

The day began bright and promising and, once more, finds started flowing from the trenches to the Finds Hut.

First to weigh in was a remarkable worked stone cube with dimples fashioned on three of the sides. For all the world like a giant dice, the cube was clearly a precious tool of some kind.

Like many of the stone tool artefacts which are found at Neolithic sites it fits beautifully into the hand, as good tools should. Just as important was the context in which it was found.

Anne holds the strange stone cube.

Anne holds the strange stone cube. (ORCA)

One of the alcoves in Structure Eight, between two of the piers, has produced an astounding array of finds. Last year, and tucked alongside one of the piers, a setting of two huge quartz pebbles, with a beautiful whale’s tooth placed delicately between, them was found.

On the other side of the alcove, a very rare whalebone macehead was uncovered – one of the very few every seen in Orkney. And now we have a stone cube, just a few centimetres from the site of the macehead.

One corner of the alcove it still unexamined…we can hardly wait.

We have become accustomed to Grooved Ware pottery being found at the Ness. When decorated, it is remarkable stuff, with either incised decoration or decoration made by applying strips of clay to make cordons which can be straight, wavy or meandering.

Yesterday, Structure Twelve produced one of the most intriguing pieces of Grooved Ware pottery yet seen.

It has applied decoration, and one of the strips of clay has also been pierced, but that is not its most remarkable attribute.

Last year we found painted stones…now we may have painted pottery.

A fragment of highly decorated and coloured Grooved Ware pottery.

A fragment of highly decorated and coloured Grooved Ware pottery. (ORCA)

It is wise to be cautious about such claims, although in the case of the painted stones we have conducted analyses and are sure of what we have.

Yet this modest-sized piece of Grooved Ware appears, to the naked eye, to most certainly have red and yellow pigments applied in the area of the decoration. Rationally, there is no reason why Neolithic people should not have painted their pottery, as it is clear that, in certain cases, it carried considerable importance for them.

What we really need is some more. Come on, Structure Twelve!

And back to Structure Eight where Jill, who hardly seems to pass half and hour without finding something of interest, uncovered a hammer stone which had been heavily used, but which is of a most unusual banded stone. It has started to disintegrate along the bands but it will be intriguing to discover if it is local stone.

Ray recording the stone slates in Structure 8.

Ray recording the stone slates in Structure Eight. (ORCA)

The recording and lifting of the roof tiles from Structure Eight is also proceeding quickly to reveal more of the floor deposits. Each slate is carefully numbered, photographed, measured and recorded before being lifted. This may allow us to reconstruct in more detail later how this roof was constructed and also collapsed.

The weather has been fine. Sorry if we major on this subject, but it much more pleasant digging through earth than clinging mud. Let’s hope it continues tomorrow.

From the Trenches

Dan sets up the Total Station to record 3D some of the numerous finds.

Dan sets up the Total Station to record 3D some of the numerous finds. (ORCA)

My name is Ciera Harvey.

I’m one of the UHI undergrad students taking part in this year’s digging at Ness of Brodgar.

For me it’s a totally new experience. I have never done a dig before. I have read several text books and marveled at many pictures of archaeological digs, but have never actually had the pleasure of being part of one.

As they say, things are very different in practice than in theory and I have to say that it’s an enlightening experience and, so far, I am loving it.

I am only here for two weeks and I’m almost sad my time here is halfway over.

Being part of the entire experience from the beginning has been a huge learning curve for me.

It’s great to learn what a dig actually comprises of – dirty jobs and all.

On the first day, I was given the job of sponging up the water that was on top of the tarps and what did we find in that water? Creepy crawlies and a few bits of rat poo. Sometimes people forget that there is a dirty side to archaeology –  it’s not all about finding nice bits of pottery.

What it becomes about is enjoying yourself and the people you are working with. You work in such close proximity with them and what I’ve found is that everyone knows how to have a good laugh.

Actually finding material in the ground has also been far more beneficial than just looking at pictures of the material in lectures, or in text books.

So far, I have found pieces of pottery and bone, of various sizes. Being entirely new to this stuff, some might say I get a little over excited about it all, but it’s just very exciting to actually see these things coming out of the ground. Just like I said, learning something in theory is far different than learning something in practice and I’m finding this way of learning things really beneficial.

Although the learning side of this experience is great, I’ve got to say the best thing about it is the company.

It’s wonderful to spend time with a group of people who have archaeology in common. It’s also great to learn from more experienced people as well, be they employed supervisors or keen volunteers. Everyone has made the experience so enjoyable – even when you find yourselves knee-deep in rat poo.