Dig Diary – Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Day Thirty-Two

Kare Sharp records some of the new art discovered outside the blocked-up southern entrance to Structure Twelve.

Kare Sharp records some of the new art discovered outside the blocked-up southern entrance to Structure Twelve.

There’s art in those stones…

Romance isn't dead. Claire, with her wedding-anniversary bouquet sent north by Mike.

Romance isn’t dead. Claire, with her wedding-anniversary bouquet sent north by Mike.

We’re going to start today with heartiest congratulations to two of our stalwarts.

Claire and Mike have toiled long and hard in Structure Ten, for many years, but they have been married for even longer and today is their wedding anniversary.

We don’t know how long they’ve been married because they’ve gone all coy, but we are assured that it is a significant number. (Actually, we have just discovered: it’s 30 years).

And, true to the Ness ethos, Mike is back at work in Bradford, while Claire is hard at work in, yes, Structure Ten.

If we could award them an Olympic medal we would. It would have to be for the marathon.

The rest of the day has been distinctly stony, but in a good way.

In Structure Twelve, very little escapes Jim’s eagle-eye and today was no exception.

Prowling about in the second day of sunshine and bright light, he noticed ephemeral stone decoration on the exterior wall surface of the structure, just outside the blocked-up south entrance.

It turned out to be at least six “butterfly” motifs arranged in a line. They are faint, but definite, and each time Jim returned to the wall he noticed another one.

It didn’t end there.

The slab decorated with multiple 'butterfly' designs. Can you spot them?

The slab decorated with multiple ‘butterfly’ designs. Can you spot them?

It's hard to spot on these reduced, internet-sized images, so here's the four I could spot on the full-sized original photo.

It’s hard to see the designs on these reduced, internet-sized images, so here’s the four I could spot on the full-sized original photo.

The row of seven cup marks revealed by Jim and Jan in Structure Twelve.

The row of seven cup marks revealed by Jim and Jan in Structure Twelve.

On the central pier at the west end of Structure Twelve, Jan spotted what appeared to be half of a cup mark peeking out from one of the foundation stones and partly obscured by midden.

As this was due to be cleared away anyway, Jim and Jan carefully excavated it to show a line of seven deep cup marks in a row.

Luckily, we have on site for the next two weeks Kate Sharp, an expert in Neolithic art. She is recording the new finds and we suspect that she will be kept busy.

Still in Structure Twelve, Martha, our on-site geologist, has been examining and recording all the different types of stone found in the walls. A number of the big blocky stones appear to be related and probably come from the same quarry.

Martha and Mark recording the stone in the inner wall face of Structure Twelve.

Martha and Mark recording the stone in the inner wall face of Structure Twelve.

Nick thinks these stones are similar to some in Maeshowe, which seem to come from a quarry on the other side of the Harray Loch. This is something extra for Martha to check.

For the umpteenth day running, one of our most extraordinary finds comes again from Trench T.

We have described already the huge orthostats, recumbent on the floor and reminiscent of standing stones.

They are almost ready now for final photography but, while cleaning back in the vicinity of the two big stones which run parallel to each other, Mai has uncovered a slot between them.

This suggest a form of Neolithic architecture we have not seen before.

It would appear that the two long recumbent and parallel orthostats had vertical orthostats slotted in between them to make a quite extraordinary inner wall face.

This trench is going to give Ben and Nick some long, happy hours of deep thought over the winter, although it means they will be even more desperate than usual to open up next year.

We will end with some news about our friends from the BBC.

They appear to have avoided the attentions of the fiery Bull of Swona (see yesterday’s diary) and have, instead, spent today paddling a skin boat across the Pentland Firth. Sensibly, they chose a day with a strong following wind, but we admire their courage – although we want to know if they had any Orkney voles on board.

Until tomorrow . . .

From the Trenches

All too soon my four-week artist’s residency on the Ness is over.

Although I would have liked a few more days of sunshine, the wind and rain have added a distinct vitality to my first experience of an archaeological dig.

On the last day I managed, despite high winds, to make a small installation in the glass case on the end of the visitors’ viewing platform, to leave as a memento of my time on site.

The residency is not the end of my project.

So far only my sketchbook drawings, portraits and watercolours have been seen online.

In addition to drawing, I have been making sound recordings of conversations with my portrait sitters and of ambient sounds around the site, plus some video of the landscape and weather.

Karen's viewing-gallery installation.

Karen’s viewing-gallery installation.

My overall interest is in observing the everyday workings of the dig, in the hope of adding another layer to the archaeology through my own ‘excavations’.

When I get back to my studio at home, I will be making new work from all the material collected – probably in the form of an installation, with a film of pictures and sound.

I will also be reflecting on how perceptual art might be of use to the research and working on this idea through discussions with other artists and local archaeologists.

Next year I will come back to Orkney for an exhibition of the results – and maybe to add some more to my project on site…

Karen Wallis