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Thursday, July 24, 2008
(Previous entries available here)

Hello and welcome to day four of the excavations at Ness of Brodgar 2008. 

My name is Gavin and I’m one of the postgraduate MA students studying Archaeological Practice at Orkney College. Talk about a cracking location for a degree ehh!  Well, the sun is in the sky again and today we have a breeze cooling us down, so it's smiles all round, as yesterday's distinct lack of air movement was making for very hot, exhausting work. 

So what’s new on site I hear you all asking? 

Picture ORCA
Janis uncovering a very large sherd of Grooved Ware pottery.

Well, to my knowledge work in the large Trench P is going well - Janis, a fellow MAAP student has been uncovering a very substantial piece of a large grooved ware vessel, which began to poke its head up yesterday afternoon and has everyone, most especially Janis, really quite excited. 

For the best part, the rest of the squad are continuing to take the levels down, layer by layer, and, as far as I know, the same is happening in Trench J, with the careful excavation of some interesting ashy dumps located throughout the structural remains there. 

The reason I am so vague as to the activities on the rest of the site is because since Tuesday I have been beavering away in Trench N, with Gemma, and have been so engrossed in all of the excitement there that I haven’t been keeping up to speed with the rest of the site. 

What’s been happening is that we have been extending the trench from the area opened up last year, so unlike everyone else, where only the backfill and teram sheeting require removing to get down onto the archaeology, Gemma and I have deturfed and been mattocking down through the layers stratigraphically to get down onto the archaeology. 

As you can imagine, mattocking is quite hard work in the heat we have been having, but it has all been worthwhile as we’re beginning to get somewhere now.

The trench extension is to the northern end of trench N, which is one of the trenches that crosses the 4m thick wall christened "The Great Wall of Brodgar".

This wall appears to be faced on both sides and runs across the peninsula, being picked up in Trench M and Trench J and shown on the geophysics.  The extension is looking at the outer side of the wall, so the opposite side from all of the settlement and structural remains in the other trenches. 

There are many theories as to the purpose of the wall, but it certainly seems to be a significant barrier between the occupation material to the South and the geophysically quiet area containing the Ring of Brodgar to the north. 

Picture ORCA
Martin, Gavin and Gemma excavating in Trench N, with the outer face of the "Great Wall of Brodgar" just visible in front of them.

Anyway, enough of theory and back to the contents of my trench extension (well, I say mine but it's really Gemma’s, Martin’s and mine!).

So far we have mattocked down about 30cm which doesn’t sound like much but when it's over an area 2m by 5m, it is quite a lot for two people! Now that we have got down a little we are beginning to see some features.

A section put in last year gave hints of a ditch aligned with the wall on its northern side, with signs of a lot of loose stone material slopping down into it, potentially from when it was infilled.  We have begun to reveal more of this dipping rubble at the south end of the extension and signs of another thinner fill throughout the rest of the trench.

Just to note, this possible ditch, cutting through the natural clay which was found last year, is 1m below the top surface of the trench. We have rubble that looks to be dipping into it all the way up at 30cm SO what all that might mean is that the ditch could be very large indeed!

If I’ve lost you then apologies - it basically could be a very wide and deep ditch, which is most exciting indeed. 

So far we haven’t had many finds out of the trench extension, some flint, burnt bone and a sherd of Neolithic pottery but it’s the ditch, or the suspense of the potential big ditch, which is the exciting bit and keeping me eagerly digging on to see what we might uncover next that may offer more clues as to the true identity of the layers that are being excavated. 

Picture ORCA
James and Alan excavating within the horseshoe shaped structure in Trench P

In general, morale is high. Everyone is getting stuck into the job at hand with much enthusiasm and getting over that initial "hard physical work" barrier that always must be crossed at the beginning of a dig when you haven’t been in the field for a long time. 

I think people often forget that archaeology is very hard work. Most of the time we are shown carefully removing a layer with a trowel and recording features which doesn’t look too difficult but trowelling and identifying different layers, features and artefacts, which are skills in their own right, can only be achieved after a lot of hard mattocking, shoveling and wheel barrowing. 

But, yeah, if you're in the area, do come along and have a wee gander at what we’re up to. Come and see the big ditch I’m digging and the exciting structures and artefacts, especially this big piece of pottery which is still in the ground and may be lifted tomorrow - so that could be a cracking spectator sport. 

Right, well I’m getting itchy trowelling fingers and champing at the bit to get back to my trench so I think I will sign off there for now.  There’s not many Masters degree programmes that offer such an awesome opportunity to continue developing my professional archaeological skills, over five weeks, on such a cracking site, and I want to make the most of every minute I can. 

Thanks for taking the time to read what I have been up to and do check back again soon to see what other exciting discoveries we are making here on the Ness of Brodgar.

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