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Tuesday, August 7
(Previous entries available here)

The Artefact that Wasn’t:

I had never seen Nick Card, Project Manager of Orkney Archaeology Trust, and our head honcho for the Ness of Brodgar excavation, so excited before.

“Jane!” he said animatedly in an almost uncontrollable whisper, “Come look at this! I’ve found something great!”

Dr. Jane Downes, visiting for the day, was digging next to me.

We both immediately jumped up and covered the two metres that separated us from Nick in a single bound (an impressive feat for two women both under five foot three). 

There, contrasting with the light coloured dirt and stone, sparkled a jet-black artefact of indescribable beauty.  

“A mace head, possibly?” they speculated. “Jet or obsidian, obviously.” 

A crowd of my fellow classmates began to gather, each gasping in turn as they, too, beheld the breathtaking object surely destined to become the greatest discovery of the excavation to date. The theories were flying fast and loose about the relic but none of it mattered to me.

All I wanted was for Nick to continue digging so the true brilliance of this amazing discovery could be fully appreciated.  

I didn’t have to wait for long.

Nick began the painstaking task of gently removing the surrounding soil from the artefact. Slowly the object began to grow in length. This was no mace head… a spearhead perhaps? Did Neolithic man even have spearheads like this? I doubted it.

“Um”, Nick began, lost for words as the sad truth became inescapable.

“That’s, That’s”, Jane tried to finish Nick’s thoughts aloud as she bent down and touched the disappointing find, “PLASTIC!!”

And so it was. A live water main was running the entire length of the largest trench (P, 20m x 20m). It hadn’t shown up in the Geophysics results and prior to excavation we had been assured that there were no pipes in the field. Nonetheless, there it sits, larger than life for all to see. 

Potholes and Port-a-loos:

Happy days!

The port-a-loo men finally arrived on site to service our port-a-loo!

Our days of trekking it down to the shore of Loch Stenness are over… for a few more days at least.

But the extra weight added to the 10-tonne lorry was just too much for the saturated earth to sustain and down it sank into one of last year’s trenches. Fortunately, archaeologists do not leave excavated trenches exposed to the elements, rather they lay plastic over the site and backfill it with soil to protect the area from unforeseeable events. I very much doubt that anyone saw this particular event happening! But not to fret! The trench is still intact and the lorry and stench did eventually make it off the site.

Weather Update:

Excavation work was cancelled on Monday, August 6, due to inclement weather.

Today (August 7th) my fellow students are hard at work bailing water out of the trenches as I happily sit inside writing to you while watching their antics. Mother Nature continues to pitch us curveballs and we happily persist in hitting them out of the park. Spirits are high in the face of this added adversity. 

Finds and Things:

Even the top midden layers of this site continue to produce interesting artefact finds.

Recently, I found a beautiful flint scraper that I am rather proud of.

Pottery fans will be happy to know that the pot finds keep rolling in. The Grooved Ware that this site is producing is phenomenal. Unfortunately for me, all I have been finding is burnt and pulverised pottery unrecognisable as anything significant.

Meanwhile, six inches away, Martin Carruthers unearths one of the most outstanding examples of Grooved Ware pottery to be discovered not only here, but also throughout the entire World Heritage Site. Supervisor’s prerogative, surely.

Martin, as you may remember, was also responsible for finding a gorgeous mace head on the first day of excavation. Some people have all the luck! But I’m not jealous…

…yes I am. 

The Mysteries Continue:

Trench J, supervised by superstar archaeologist Paul Sharman, continues to be at the heart of ongoing speculation concerning a possible burial chamber.

The burial shows signs of being a hybrid of both a stalled cairn (such as Unstan cairn) and a chambered cairn (Maeshowe).

It is possible that the Ness of Brodgar cairn (if it indeed proves to be a cairn) could be the missing link between the two different styles of architecture. Further excavation will need to be carried out. Meanwhile, work has continued in the trench expansion where Paul found a magnificent example of Neolithic artwork. 

As I dug in the northern side of Trench P the ground beneath me began to sound hollow.

This hollow sound was confirmed as more and more small holes began to open around this area of the trench. Archaeologist and trench supervisor Judith “Iron-horse” Robertson believes that there could be a drain here similar to ones found at Skara Brae and Barnhouse.

The cruciform style building in trench P is being more defined each day, yet it and its later additions and the role they played in the landscape have yet to be fully realised. 


Guided tours of the site begin at 11:00am and 3:00pm Monday through Friday.

This Sunday - August 12 - is Open Day at the excavation. Please come by and say hello and feel free to ask us any questions you may have concerning the site. See you soon! 

Sarah Morris-Martin
Master’s Student of Archaeology Extraordinaire
Kansas, U.S.A.

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
Orkney Archaeological Trust
Orkney College
Historic Scotland