Return to Orkneyjar Latest News Excavation Diary Excavation Background Archive Stories





Friday, July 31, 2009
(Previous entries available here)

I’m Jill Bird. I have never worked on a dig before and this is my second visit to Orkney.

Last year, it was the powerful archaeology that attracted me to the islands and when I first saw the site, I knew this was where I wanted to fulfil my life time’s ambition of volunteering to dig.

For a start it’s the magnificence of the setting, the water, the wind, that narrow strip of land but mainly it’s the grandeur and monumental scale of the buildings that makes this place so special.

Picture ORCA
Planning Structure 8.

Digging, for me, is a strange mosaic of tedium, excitement and confusion – what does it all mean? That’s the mystery! There are around 40 of us working and that’s quite a team and, despite the painstaking scraping and recording, slowly, but definitely, the buildings and walls appear to be pushing up through the surface, emerging like a snake shedding it’s skin.

Watching the archaeologists at work is fascinating. I like Mika, the Swede’s approach. He seems to use his "nose" a lot – he often seems to say: “I felt that this looked different.”  

This afternoon, I have been working in the finds hut, which means I get to help sorting all the amazing artefacts.

Picture ORCA
Gemma and Cecily making notes as they excavate Structure 7.

Earlier in the day the cry went up “I’ve found something.”

What emerged from the infill of Structure 10 was a pointed three inch tool made of bone. I am looking at it now. It’s beautifully smooth, honed and symmetrical. It’s obvious that amazing skill and care went into its creation and realising that somebody used it thousands of years ago is almost mystical.

In section, some incredibly skilled and sophisticated masonry had already been opened up but today absolutely perfect flagstones were revealed at the bottom of the "passage/walkway" that surrounds Structure 10.

Amazingly, the floor is still perfectly level even after thousands of years.

Picture ORCA

One gorgeous piece was almost missed this afternoon.

A set of fragmented slivers, about the thickness of a pancake was discovered, inscribed with delicate lines looking like crazy skewed window pains that had been used, or reused, in part of the wall core of Structure 10. Much excitement and speculation about what the mean, what they were for. . . what, what, what?

I’m working with Ann, in the finds hut, who is incredibly busy – we have bags and bags of cow bone to sort, dry, label and bag. Probably several cows and maybe a couple of sheep are represented.

Yesterday, I found a sheep’s tooth – great excitement for me at least – the first time it’s seen daylight in a few thousand years!

It’s very social here – lots of  people, especially locals, calling in and Ann, in spite of all there is to do, is always showing and discussing the site which is lovely.

Nick’s just popped in to say that a possible human tooth has been found. “A high note to end the week!”   

Meanwhile the swan and cygnets bob and the anglers keep casting on the Harray loch – what is time?

Picture ORCA
The stonework of the inner face of the outer enclosure that surrounds Structure 10.
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