As I take a week off from being on site, I’ve been wondering what has been achieved so far this year. Here are some thoughts and a few images from the past three weeks.
At the start, I filled a gap in my narrative by drawing the site as it was uncovered before the dig.
Then I continued drawing and waited for stuff to happen. Initially, I thought Trench J might be the one to follow but, although interesting, progress is subtle and slow.
By contrast Trench Y has moved fast and, despite failing to produce anything clear, there have been many excitements. To date, amid a lot of rubble, they have found some rare pieces of whale bone, two hearths side by side and today some small walls suggesting a building.
Any big wall surrounding the site remains elusive – and may not have ever existed.
In this fluidity in the archaeology, I can see echoes of my project. This may be my third year on site but I still don’t know where this long term residency is heading – and my feet are definitely not touching the bottom. This is something I love.
So I will return on August 1st, meanwhile I’ll be keeping up with events through the daily dig diary at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk
It is the end of the third week and some archaeologists are leaving, which means making sure I draw and interview people before they go. Drawing portraits is a perfect way to have a sound recorder running to hear my sitter’s stories and views on the dig.
Then there are certain activities that only happen for a short time, while the expert is available – and I need more drawings of that aspect. Today it was taking samples for micromorphology.
It has been a long week. A full five days after the busy open day last Sunday. I think it shows in today’s drawings. They became increasingly scribbly.
This was compounded with my own sense of urgency to get as much as possible done before I take a week off next week. I am particularly unwilling to leave Trench Y where things are happening so quickly.
I just hope they finish the current sondage on Monday before I leave.
My relationship with the artefacts found on the dig.
I need to be clear about this. I am putting the thing into the context in which it was found. That means not only drawing a stone in the hole in which it has been excavated, but recording a conversation with the person who found it.
The stone may have wonderful Neolithic marks and I can suggest this but, for me, they are not important. Others will record them in detail. I am bearing witness to the human endeavour involved in finding the find.
Elsewhere on site today.
A long view of Trench T
Paperwork in Structure 8
It seems that for everyone the best laid plans are perpetually disrupted. This morning, one of the archaeologists told me that each night she makes plans for the next day, which dissolve almost as soon she arrives on site.
In Trench Y, where they are concentrating on finding the wall surrounding many of the structures, they have just found a whale bone, which is rare on the Ness. Naturally it is good to find an artefact, but it will delay progress in their search for the wall, while the area is cleared and the bone is photographed and lifted – an extremely delicate operation requiring the most expert hands. Then they will have to continue excavation very carefully to see if there is more.
I have given up making plans of any substance and take each day as it comes – being prepared for any incident presented to me. Like a young archaeologist proudly showing me his find of pottery.
Even the weather has a say in what I do. When it is windy like today, there is a need to be in relatively sheltered spots – although it also offers good opportunities to record sounds like the wind in the grass or waves on the loch.
And another watercolour of the sky.
A deeper sense of involvement on site today. Not that I don’t already feel immersed in the dig. The archaeologists are increasingly showing me what is going on – from sharing a find to explaining the process. Some things are so complex I cannot pretend to understand them but I do appreciate being included. On other occasions, the information feeds directly into my project.
While drawing Bruce, he enlightened me not only on the work in Structure 26 but on the essential destruction involved in archaeology, which is equally constructive in rescuing artefacts. This is a question that has been bothering me.
Mandy, in Trench T, is excavating a pot and explained its unusual composition, which is making it particularly fragile and unlikely to be lifted without disintegrating.
In the ongoing story of Trench Y, they have had to do ‘stepping’ on each side because the depth of the trench requires a limit on the height of any wall, for health and safety reasons.
And once again while spending time on an oil painting, I listened in to an exciting afternoon’s progress in Structure 1.
Don’t forget you can get all the Ness of Brodgar news in their daily Dig Diary and News from the Trenches at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk