In 2016, I became an Artist in Residence at the Ness of Brodgar excavations, followed by second residency in 2017. Now I am back for my third residency on the dig.
My work is based in drawing and sound recordings made on site. The focus is on human activity – both the work of archeologists in the present and the traces of the Neolithic past. Outcomes to date are an ongoing film of images and sounds, severals exhibitions, a number of talks, and two conference papers..
The last day of this year’s dig and there were very few people left on site. Everyone is tired as they wind down from a rather intense season. My adrenaline is seeping away and it’s difficult to think clearly or articulate how I feel. So here are the pictures I made today of the empty trenches.
And my experiment in colours on a stone, which will be left out over winter to see how they weather.
I will now be heading back to my studio for a period of reflection and recovery. So there will be a pause in my blog, which will be continued when there is fresh action in this project.
Until then news of my other activities can be found at www.karenwallis.co.uk
Today saw all the trenches covered over with tarpaulins held down with tyres, to protect them until next season’s dig. It felt quite sad to see everything that has been revealed this year being hidden.
But it has been an amazing eight weeks. Paul, supervisor in Trench J, was full of enthusiasm for how things have progressed in their understanding of the structures, for what his team have achieved and the artefacts they have found.
Personally I too have progressed in my understanding, not only of the site but also in how my involvement can contribute to the archaeology. By becoming increasingly integrated into the workforce, my use of drawing and sound to record the everyday process of the dig is now revealing the emotions that process generates. In a science based discipline, the documentation of excitement is not usually part of the archive.
In the case of Trench Y, the dominating emotions were a mixture of frustration and determination. The wall they sought does not exist. I watched as they dug further and further towards the loch edge, finding nothing but rubble. Nevertheless they have found sufficiently interesting evidence of archaeology at the top of the trench to prevent the trench from being filled in completely. So while the bottom has been back filled, the top has been covered over with the tarpaulin and tyres, ready for further investigation next year.
And I am not the only onlooker to be pleased by this stay of execution. John, a regular visitor to the site has also been following the fortunes of Trench Y.
Activity in the Art Hut is drawing to a close – so today we wrote a review of our season ‘From the Art Hut’ for the Ness of Brodgar web site at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk
Today was the last day that the site was open to the public. But while the last tours for visitors went round, the archaeologists were starting some serious covering up of the trenches.
First with sandbags.
Then tyres were rolled into position.
Finally tarpaulins were spread, and the tyres laid on top.
We hope there won’t be too much rain or high winds tomorrow, while the rest of the trenches are covered.
A very different atmosphere this week all round. The weather is autumnal, i.e. cold and windy with occasional horizontal rain. Visitors are keen to engage with the Art Hut – maybe to shelter from the weather.
In the trenches it’s a mixture of an urgency to squeeze in a last bit of excavation, and the start of closing down individual structures. Some of these were piles of rubble at the start of the digging season but are now distinct buildings that require proper protection for the winter, using sandbags.
Due to the increase in demand for sandbags they are making up more from the spoil heaps – and running out of actual bags.
Worsening weather meant I took shelter indoors, where pottery is being cleaned for further inspection.
But there are times when wind and rain must be ignored – when a beautiful bit of pot is being excavated late in the afternoon.
In recovery after the Open Day, so assessed the collection of pigments.
It would be good to complete my ‘picture’ but there are more pressing matters during this final week. Having said that, I find my playing with pigment becoming involved in some more seriously research on behalf of the dig – experimenting with the longevity of marks made on rocks.
Two weeks ago Martha, the Rock Lady, shared a piece of red sandstone by breaking it on a piece of paving. There has been substantial rain since then but the colour remains. I had already decided to leave some pigment ground in beef fat exposed outside over winter. Martha tells me there would have been lots of eggs around here in the Neolithic. So, encouraged by Anne (Project Officer and head of Finds), the plan now is to leave samples of dry pigment, plus the same mixed with beef fat, egg white, egg yolk and whole egg.
Meanwhile, getting back to drawing, I am concentrating on a few gaps in certain stories – notably in Trench Y, where I hope to complete a history of the trench from start to finish.
Back filling has continued almost up to the remaining archaeology, which is being planned (drawn) and cleaned (scraped to remove debris).
But there are still potentially interesting things being discovered. They have another two days before a final decision will be made, on whether to fill in or if there is more to be investigated next year.
The end of an excavation is like a piece of art – you never know when it is finished…
Follow the whole story at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk