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Wednesday, August 13, 2008
(Previous entries available here)

Another decorated stone from the Ness of Brodgar
Picture ORCA
The decorated slab - click here for enhanced image.

Yet  another decorated stone has been recovered this time from the  fills of the ditch parallel to and outside of the Great Wall of Brodgar.  

Eagle eyed Amanda spotted it - the slab, although only circa 15cm long, has been polished on one side and covered in extremenly fine incised decoration, most barely discernable when first seen.

Although there are common motifs of parallel lines and cross hatching there are also bands of very fine chevrons - a truely STAR find! Obviously this slab has been broken but who knows if we will find the rest - watch this space.


My name is Mike Copper. I am a former professional archaeologist, currently working as a volunteer at the Ness of Brodgar, as a result of having visited the site last year and been thoroughly impressed by what I saw.

As a change from the normal blog entries detailing the day to day activities on site, I thought I would briefly share my ideas on what is behind my interest in archaeology and what motivates me to spend my holidays in the wind and rain (and, amazingly this year, the sun!) scraping away at the soil.

Picture ORCA
Johnny removing more collapse and infill within Structure 1.

While driving to the site last week I found myself imagining a misty day on Orkney.

Before me is a shallow stretch of water, perhaps a loch, perhaps a pond within an area of marshes. There is no wind and the water is like glass. Suddenly a slight breeze disturbs the calm and, for a brief moment, the mist clears slightly to reveal a narrow strip of low land perhaps fifty metres away.

I cannot see clearly, but enough is revealed to make out a series of low, stone-walled buildings. They appear to be thatched but it is hard to see with what; perhaps seaweed? perhaps turf?

Picture ORCA
Stone decorated with parallel lines, infilled with cross hatching built into walls of Structure 10.

Smoke is rising from the roofs and I can just make out the fog-veiled figures moving to and fro. Beside the water, a child squats next to a bearded man. The child watches intently as the man demonstrates some skill. He appears to strike an object resting on his lap. Could it be stone? Or maybe flint?

Picture: ORCA
Paolo excavating beside one of the orthostats relating to the later use of Structure 1.

To the left, two women are tending a smoking mound while, beside them, a pile of pots have been carefully stacked. Briefly the mist obscures the view and, when it finally clears, I see a different scene: men and women are dragging a sledge holding two large boulders towards what appears to be a huge wall.

There are shouts and the sound of people straining to heave stones into place. I wonder what the purpose of such a structure could be but, as I try to see what is going on, the mist once more descends, obscuring the view, this time forever.

It is easy, when engaged in de-turfing a new trench or filling in a context sheet, to forget the farmer who, five thousand years ago, carelessly dropped a flint blade as he left the village for his fields, or the children who sat by the peat fire, now just a spread of cold, ashy soil, listening to stories.

But, at the end of the day’s work, it is a privilege to be able to stand beside the open trench and see revealed, for the first time in five thousand years, the walls of the houses which once sheltered living people.

Yesterday I found a beautiful honey-coloured flint scraper, probably used for preparing hides. As I picked it up to examine it, mine were the first hands to hold it since the Neolithic. Archaeology can be uncomfortable, cold, wet, tiring and complicated, but it can also allow us a brief glimpse into worlds often so different, and yet also, at the same time, disarmingly similar to our own.

Picture ORCA
Grooved Ware pottery sherd, with applied decoration, from extension to Trench P

There are many possible interpretations of what we see.

Archaeology can be as creative as it is scientific. The past may be half hidden by temporal mists, but enough is revealed to captivate and enchant.

And that is why I am here now. And why I will be back again next year.

Mike Copper

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