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Monday, August 11, 2008
(Previous entries available here)

Site news in brief

The extension to Trench P has now had its initial clean and Structure 10 seems even more dramatic than we could have imagined.

Picture ORCA
Structure 10 after initial cleaning - here we see about half of it - geophysics suggest that it is over 25 metres long.

Only half of this structure has been revealed in this trench as the other half disappears under the house of Lochview as indicated by the geophysical surveys.

However, in this half we can already make out a sub rectangular building with rounded corners over 11m wide internally surrounded by a massive wall over 2m wide.

The scale of this structure is even larger than large monumental Structure 8 at the nearby Barnhouse village! Other wall lines within this structure may indicate a later building constructed within the collapse of this huge building. 

Picture ORCA
Amanda finishes cleaning the natural at the bottom of Trench N.

Neolithic ‘artwork’ or graffiti continues to be discovered at a tremendous rate – since the STOP PRESS at the end of last week, four new finds of incised decoration have been discovered – again some built into walls while others on collapse within the various structures – every stone from the site is carefully scrutinized as everyone wants their own piece!

Picture ORCA
The other side of Structure 8 is revealed in the Trench P extension - very regular piers creating a building over 7m wide internally.

Impressions of the dig from a FOAT "newbie"

I had always wanted to go on a dig, long before the television made archaeology so popular.  This year, as a local member of the Friends of the Orkney Archaeological Trust, I was offered the chance to take part in the dig at the Ness of Brodgar for two weeks.  I explained that I had to fit it round my timetable and, as this was perfectly acceptable, I turned up on Monday morning.   

From the first I found everyone supportive and helpful.  Along with several other ‘newbies’, I had the basic rules of the site including Health and Safety explained. Then, one of the more experienced people, Gemma, was assigned to work with us and to teach us about the site and what the archaeologists used to record the finds.   

The first day and the weather was ideal: warm and overcast with just enough breeze to keep the midges away.  It was not long before we started to find bits of pottery and bones.  Each unusual stone was checked by a very patient Gemma and it was not long before we could tell the difference between stone, bones and pottery most of the time.  We were taught how to bag small finds and mark their site with a numbered tab until such time as they could be recorded by an archaeologist. It seemed that this must be one of the best jobs in the world. 

On day three, we were shown how to use the total station which allows the fixing of co-ordinates on a grid to mark the finds.  Then we were shown the grids which are put over the different areas in order to help with the pictorial mapping of the site.  After watching some of the folk working on this I was glad that my basic sketching skills were not required.   

Day four and the break for learning the workings of the Finds Hut and how to record the finds in the folder under the watchful eye of Naomi the finds assistant. This very welcome as the unaccustomed exercise of kneeling and scraping with a trowel was beginning to tell.  By day five I found that this had worn off and I was no longer so stiff and looking forward to the second week. 

We started week two on a part which had just been uncovered by the mechanical digger.  This meant that there were fewer finds initially but the chance of finding something kept us going.  I found my first piece of flint in this level, a beautiful almost rose coloured tool with a very sharp edge.  It is such a wonderful feeling when you are the first person to pick up a tool which was last used thousands of years ago.   

When working on the site the time just seems to flow, broken only by the call for teabreak or lunch.  Even when the rain falls, and it has generally been dry, time seems to pass quickly.  The task is so absorbing that the rain can be ignored. 

As a retired person, I realise that I have more time than most to do the things I have always wanted to do but I would say that anyone who has a few days to spare would find taking part in a dig a very rewarding experience.  Along with the interesting finds you will meet interesting folk from different parts of the world who appreciate the fact that Orkney can give them an experience which they would find more difficult to come by anywhere else.  I feel very lucky to live in such a rich area and to be able to take part in uncovering some of the fascinating history of Orkney. 

The Ness of Brodgar
Orkney's World Heritage Site
The Ring of Brodgar
Archaeology around the Ness of Brodgar
The Standing Stones of Stenness
The Barnhouse Settlement