Dig Diary – Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Day Thirteen

Trench T bathed in sunshine.

Trench T, bathed in sunshine, with the water of the Stenness Loch in the background.

Oh, it’s such a perfect day . . .

It has been the strangest day. There has been no precipitation and nothing to dim the high spirits, if you except the occasional plague of non-biting midges. The sun has shone endlessly and the merciless Orkney wind has disappeared — no doubt hiding round a corner to emerge when we least expect it.

Walker Ryan entertains the team.

Walker T. Ryan entertains the team.

In the midst of all this on-site happiness, Walker T. Ryan appeared.

Those who treasure the diary, and re-read it obsessively (you know who you are), will recall Walker’s visit, two years ago, when he entertained us all with wonderful guitar Blues and vocals. His voice and agile fingers are as good as ever, and, being in Orkney again for a few gigs, he decided to pop along to entertain us once more.

Serious archaeological visitors seemed bemused, but we all enjoyed it and he left to a hearty round of applause.

Meanwhile, in Structure Eight, the last of the water pipe baulk has now been removed. Left behind is one cube of midden baulk, looking for all the world like a Christmas cake awaiting decoration. Its purpose is to record horizontal relationships on either side.

In the south end of Structure Eight, the very large dump of ashy material has been removed. Site director Nick hoped that it was concealing a hearth of some sort and his hopes were fulfilled.

The hearth revealed this afternoon is elongated and, hopefully, will show itself to be a double hearth. If so, it will be similar to the large hearth at the north end of the structure.

Andy records the midden 'Christmas Cake' prior to its removal.

Andy records the midden ‘Christmas Cake’ prior to its removal.

There are also strong signs that there is a south entrance to Structure Eight, in the southern end wall. If so, this will make it like most of the other structures on site, with the exception of Structure Ten.

Anne, Christine and Tony are now cleaning floor surfaces in the happy expectation of many exotic artefacts, as happened at the other end of the building. After all, Structure Eight has its reputation as “bling centre” of the Ness to live up to.

In Structure Ten, Mike, Claire, Jan and Miles are removing the last remnants of the robber cut in the south wall. Large amounts of rubble were dumped back in by the robbers and a couple of blocks of stone have been shown to have very crude pecking.

Ann starts to reveal the large southern hearth in Structure Eight.

Ann starts revealing the large southern hearth in Structure Eight.

In the afternoon, Dr Ingrid Mainland, of the Archaeology Institute UHI, visited the site and was very interested in the continuation of the big, bone spread around the Structure Ten — much of which she has already excavated.

Surprisingly, the bone concentration outside the end wall appears more concentrated than in other areas towards the rear of Structure Ten. This may require explanation.

It was good to see a group from Andante Travel, led by Mary McLeod, the former county archaeologist of the Western Isles. This is the organisation which awarded the Ness the 2011 Andante Travel Archaeological Award.

The weather will not be so good tomorrow. There may even be precipitation.

From the Trenches

The team takes a well-earned break under clear, blue skies.

The team takes a well-earned break under clear, blue skies.

My name is Alette Blom and I am starting my third year at Leiden University, the Netherlands.

As a part of my undergraduate course, I have to do 50 days of fieldwork to get a better hands-on experience with outdoor archaeology.

Because Britain’s landscape and history has always had my interest, I started looking for an internship “somewhere” in the UK.

While doing my research into the costs and experience gained at several archaeological sites, someone pointed the Orkney Islands out to me.

The main reasons I was drawn to the idea of spending my summer on a distant, and rather difficult to reach, island, were its landscape and the (archaeological) heritage.

However, being a student with little knowledge of Scotland’s archaeology – let alone Orkney – and who has just finished her second year, I was not expecting many of my applications to lead anywhere.

Then Nick Card emailed me back, saying that he would be pleased to take me as an intern for the entire summer — I booked my plane tickets that night.

I have now been here for seven-and-a-half weeks, also working on The Cairns, in South Ronaldsay, and have learned that taking shorts and vest tops was unnecessary weight in my luggage.

Claire and Mike display the new carved stone ball, with decoration. If only it was for real!

Claire and Mike display the new carved stone ball, with decoration. If only it was for real!

But most of all, my knowledge on fieldwork, documentation, planning and find processing has grown more than I had expected.

But now back to today.

The sun was finally shining, after several days of horrific rain and wind, and Structure Ten thus continued its work on sampling floor deposit after floor deposit.

This work has been going on for two-and-a-half weeks now, and though it may sound boring, I rather like the documentation and planning that is a part of this process.

We have not uncovered many unbelievably unexpected finds or further structures so far, but we are slowly gaining more knowledge on the stratigraphy of the floor deposits and the difficulty to trowel them.

And, as I had feared throughout my entire education, archaeology is really not the profession to grow old with. While me, Alison and Amanda (and previously Annabelle) are getting ourselves in the most awkward positions to trowel down that one specific layer of clay that was deposited thousands of years ago, we are slowly reaching the end of a pier that is supposed to come out this year.

So far we have found some flakes of flint, pottery and (burned) bone. Besides that however, we have finally taken out a pot lid that, with a diameter of circa 44cm, seems to be the biggest one uncovered so far.

Hopefully we will soon be removing rocks from the pier, so that we can see what is hidden underneath it.