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There is no wall in Trench Y. Down near the loch edge they found a large promising stone – but underneath it had a plough mark, which dates its arrival in position somewhere in the early 20th century. So the layers are being recorded in drawing and work will be done on the floor deposits at the upper end, and then it will be filled in.

On a site that takes the long term view on most structures, it seems odd, or perhaps special, to witness the beginning and end of a trench in one season.

Today, between the typical Orkney showers, the loch was a more intense blue than I have ever seen before. Late in the day I painted a small watercolour. The water dark compared to the sky, making the dry patches of grass where people have trodden gleam a bleached ochre. The foreground punctuated with bright red spots of clothing and bits of kit. A strange fragmented picture that reflects a busy but fragmented day.


The Rapture of the Archive

For me this is the moment of human connection with the past – a dizzying flash of recognition that something in my life is the same as another human being long dead. My act of creating in drawing is an echo of the same act performed by another person in the past. I have previously felt this connection when looking at paintings by my artist heroes: Rembrandt, Cézanne, Hopper and others. Their work speaks of the act of painting and I can tell where they were standing – the position they were looking from. These experiences require further reflection.

Sinead in Structure 10 enjoys the methodical diagnosis that ultimately reveals the human activity in the space. At the Ness of Brodgar, it really is about being human and seeing that humanity revealed by the archaeology.

Not all the archaeologist supervisors are able to come back for every digging season. So this year Structure 12 remains covered and Jim’s plaster rabbit waits forlornly for his return.

Trench T has changed hands again this year and I’m looking forward to a conversation with this year’s supervisor next week. Meanwhile I have painted the now enlarged and complicated trench from the same viewpoint as 2016.


Despite my cavalier attitude yesterday, today I made a list of things to do in the remaining two weeks. It consists mainly of portraits, which are my preferred way of having conversations with the archaeologists. Some people are shy of being drawn so I always offer the option of not using their portrait in my film, as it is their voices that are most useful.

Ray, who found and excavated yesterday’s pot in Trench J, sat for me this morning. He is not sure why he comes to dig year after year – it just draws him in.

Another on my list is to revisit Trench T from the viewpoint where I painted ‘Blue Rope’ in watercolour in 2016.

The trench is now much bigger and more complex, and today I began work on an oil painting. This was only half done by tea time and will have to be completed tomorrow – weather permitting.

When I had stopped painting, there was only time for a quick sketch of equipment being returned to the shed.


Week 6: only another two weeks before things start to wind down. It’s time to concentrate, to focus on important things and not get distracted by random events – or is it?

Today I enjoyed seeing yet another extension to Trench Y. If they take it any further they will end up in the Loch…

I saw another ‘corridor’ in Structure 1

Finally, in late afternoon excitement, there was a great pot being excavated in Trench J.

Everyday is unexpected. I like that.


One of those days when the morning is so stimulating that it doesn’t matter if rain stops work in the afternoon. Sinead, the supervisor in Structure 10 came to tell me that they had just uncovered a beautiful stone axe.  It was still in situ and I was able to establish myself with sketchbook and sound recorder before everyone else arrived to admire the find.

So I have drawings of the stone, Therese who found it, and three showing her hands working with a leaf trowel, plus 30 minutes of sound covering her delight, many comments from others, the numbering and preparations for photography.

Although working on the ‘outside’, more concerned with the people than the archaeology, I feel fully integrated into the workforce on site and able to share the excitements of discovery.  Jo Bourne’s comment sums it up:

“Everybody gets excited about finding something – and the things that we find are really precious to us. But they are all of our finds really. They’re the finds of the Ness and everyone who works here.

For the full story read the Dig Diary at www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk