Dig Diary – Thursday, August 18, 2016

Day Thirty-Four

A fantastic image of star trails over the nearby Ring of Brodgar, taken by one of our regular diggers, Chris Marshall.

A fantastic image of star trails over the nearby Ring of Brodgar, taken by one of our regular diggers, Chris Marshall.

Activity on the Ness extended by new radiocarbon dates

The Wordsmith writing group were among the visitors to the site today.

The Wordsmith writing group were among the visitors to the site today.

Today was a day for visitors –  not just our very valued folk here to take tours, but for people with specialised interests.

This includes, of course, the BBC who have ended their lengthy sojourns at the Ness by bringing some new radiocarbon dates associated with their upcoming programme on Orkney and, in particular, our site. (Best wishes to cameraman Ed, who is missed on site).

We are sworn to secrecy for the moment but, when combined with some of our own new dates, we can say that the period of activity at the Ness may be much extended.

Further details will be made public but you may have to wait for the BBC2 programme in the autumn and the publication of an academic paper in the prestigious European Journal of Archaeology.

A floor you could eat your dinner off. The immaculate Structure Fourteen is ready for final photos.

A floor you could eat your dinner off. The immaculate Structure Fourteen is ready for final photos.

Other visitors were from the Orkney Islands Council planning department, an organisation which is intimately connected with what we do here and how we do it.

They were on a visit to World Heritage Site locations and, after a tour with site director Nick, we were glad to see they seemed very interested in what they had seen.

It is, of course, one of the cornerstones of our work here that we both involve the public and are also a major contributor to the Orkney economy through the enormous number of visitors who come to the site every year. All of this takes careful planning on our part but we are also grateful for the guidance given by the council, which enables us to carry out our activities in the proper manner.

Other visitors came from Wordsmit, the local young folk’s writing group, who also had a tour with Nick and then sat down to write about it all. Some of them seem pretty talented and the diary would be happy to have a contribution from them next year.

In Structure Fourteen, with the extreme cleaning of surfaces finished, Dave and his team buckled down to serious photography.

Those of us who have worked with Dave over the years have become closely acquainted with the soles of his boots. This is because Dave is a high-wire artiste with aerial photography. He appears to have no fears about perching at the top of very long ladders, swaying back and forward in the wind with cameras, while issuing terse instructions to his helpers below (hasten to add that all health and safety recommendations and risk assessments are adhered to!).

That’s where the boot soles are relevant, because after many minutes of holding the ladder and keeping Dave upright and alive, his boots and their ability to remain rooted to the ladder rungs become of the utmost importance.

A new aerial view of the mysterious structure in Trench T, captured by Orkney Skycap.

A new aerial view of the mysterious structure in Trench T, captured by Orkney Skycap.

Another of our visitors yesterday was James Robertson, of Orkney Skycam  – a highly qualified and professional drone pilot and he kindly took a whole series of brilliant photos and videos of Trench T which will aid our understanding of this most complex and puzzling of sites.

Lastly, but by no means least, we have recovered, with considerable skill and patience, some handsome, incised pottery from the top of Trench X. This will join other sherds, almost certainly from the same vessel, which were recovered earlier.

There will be no digging on site tomorrow for everyone is resting up and preparing for the second Open Day, which takes place on Sunday, August 21. This will include all of the usual treats, such as tours of the site starting at 11 am with the last beginning at 3.30pm.

There will be on-site flint-knapping, colour preparation and stone working and down at the Stenness Hall there will be lots more fun for all ages including nettle rope-making, bone workshops and the usual refreshments.

Come along to visit us, and please consider supporting us financially.

It is at this point, almost the last few days of excavation, that it is brought home to us all how much we have used up in the way of resources and money.

We look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

From the Trenches

Recovering the latest finely decorated pot from Trench X.

Recovering the latest finely decorated pot from Trench X.

I’m Romayne Wainwright and I have just completed the second year of an archaeology degree at the UHI. I’ve been working in finds for the past fortnight.

Studying archaeology has been on my to-do list for a very long time, but there always seemed to be something more important to do – a farm to help run, four kids to raise.

Of course, there was never going to be a perfect time and when I realised this I also realised I just had to get on with it.   Any fears I had about going back to uni nearly 30 years after the last time were well and truly borne out – 95 per cent party 5 per cent  study turned rapidly into 5 per cent party 95 per cent study.

Luckily the subject is interesting enough that I’m okay with this. But the family’s habit of pretending to fall asleep every time I share some fascinating titbit is REALLY ANNOYING.   I have put up with rugby, cycling, rugby, rugby and Harry Potter for years.

Although I only embarked on studying archaeology two years ago, like many of my fellow volunteers I have taken part in excavations here and there over the years.

On my first excavation, I spent six weeks in a beautifully decorated rock shelter in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, sorting burnt/unburnt bone, ochre, ostrich eggshell, pot, worked stone etc. with a fascinating handful of people.

Twenty-five years later swap rock shelter for portacabin, wall art for crates upon crates of slowly drying artefacts, and once again I find myself sorting burnt/unburnt bone from ochre, pot, worked stone, etc.

Lots of activity in Structure Eight.

Lots of activity in Structure Eight.

I also, once again, find myself surrounded by interesting people who have taken a couple of weeks or months out of their normal lives to come up and volunteer at the Ness.

At digs in between South Africa and the Ness I have spent most of my time in trenches, where assuming the position has often impeded conversation. Last time out, driving snow and blizzard conditions in Strathfarrar limited conversation to grunts and curses. I had forgotten how much I enjoy the finds process, and the fascinating people that it brings to work beside or with you.

One of my companions last week was an internationally respected human rights activist, with a plethora of published and cited papers and books to her name.

Some people had expertise that they were willing to share on many topics; others, like me, were also willing to share opinions on many topics with absolutely no expertise.

Just like 25 years ago, I learnt a lot more than finds processing this past couple of weeks. It’s been great, thank you all, Anne particularly.