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Friday, July 20

My name is Daniel Lee and I’m also studying for the Masters at Orkney College.

I finished my degree at Sheffield University in 2000 and have been working in developer-funded archaeology since then. I decided to take time out from working to re-engage with more research led archaeology whilst continuing to develop skills in archaeological practice.

The course at Orkney College offers a good balance of theory and practice, as well as a chance to visit and study the palimpsest of breath taking archaeology in the islands.

Having visited Orkney for the first time just over a year ago I was sold, and here I am! 

It is one thing to read about Neolithic structures, to study the village at Barnhouse and visit the reconstructed remains, to look at plans and drawings, but to have the opportunity to excavate them yourself is something very special!

So when the backfill and plastic of last years Ness of Brodgar excavations were pealed back, and the structures became visible, the realisation of what was to come started to sink in.

This year a large new trench (P) has been opened to the south of last years trench (J) to target the structures uncovered by GUARD in 2003, and to investigate the continuation of the structure identified in the geophysics. I was asked to monitor the stripping of the area. A JCB was used to remove the topsoil and the driver (luckily the skilled Alley Miller!) had to carefully take the soil down in spits.

The archaeology was just below the topsoil and stone slabs and the tops of vertically set stones started to appear with increased frequency.

I have stripped many sites in my time but this was something special as on most sites a stone is just a stone, and does not relate to anything interesting. But here each stone was probably part of a Neolithic wall or setting. It’s certainly not your average site! 

Having trowelled back the trench and removed the remains of the topsoil, more walls and structures are starting to appear with tantalising regularity.

The small ‘M’ shaped section of wall from the GUARD trench continues to the east, and the similarity to the main walls of Structure 2 at Barnhouse are striking. Its early stages yet, but maybe the structure here will turn out to be similar? Lets hope so as this may indicate the importance of this area as a settlement.

Apart from the wind (!), you can see why this spot may have been important to Neolithic communities- views of the Stones at Stenness, Brodgar, and the burial mound of Maeshowe. The striking silhouette of the hills of Hoy to the west, if the weather allows, also seems to frame the landscape.

If contemporary, the village at Barnhouse could also have been seen. Not only could the views from the Ness of Brodgar have been important, but the structures would themselves have been highly visible in the landscape, and probably more so than Barnhouse.

Whatever the structure in Trench P turns into, and I’m sure there will be many surprises, it will be fascinating to see how our interpretations and expectations change as the site develops.

There is certainly a sense of excitement on site (combined with backache and tiredness!) and it’s only the end of the first week

 

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