As this is a long term project, it can feel overwhelming in its scale and complexity (like the dig itself). Despite the fact that archaeology is rooted in the past, my residency is about bearing witness to the human activity in the present and revealing traces of past human activity visible now. I am not trying to reconnect with a previous time which is gone and unknowable.
My job is to watch how the archaeologists work and listen to what they have to say – in both my conversations when drawing their portraits and in overheard discussions and site tours. It is about being there and being with them.
There are some pieces of stone which have been uncovered and now the parts with iron layers are rusting.
They are difficult to draw and paint because I’m not interested in just rocks and prefer people. My project is about human activity. So why do I find these stones attractive and what do they have they to do with human activity?
Neolithic people built the wall and these stones were either buried in the structure or have since split open. They have now been exposed by 21st century human activity and the new experience of moisture combined with air has created orange stripes of rust – a colour the neolithic people would have liked had they seen it.
(You could call this ironic…)
And now for some simple human activity
One of the supervisors is feeling that he hasn’t accomplished much in his trench, because it is not only complex but confusing. There is a balance to be achieved between working fast through the midden, to get to the structure of special interest underneath, and doing justice to the material to be found in the process – bearing in mind that excavation is expensive.
Yesterday persistent rain and mud making an abstract painting on the floor of the supervisors’ hut.
Today, bright sunlight creating sharp shadows and the ever present wind blowing clouds into many shapes.
Today I discovered micromorphology.
Samples of soil on site are cut and put carefully into small tin boxes or, if larger, wrapped in clingfilm. These are then sent away to be suspended in resin, from which very fine slices are cut to make slides to examine under a microscope. I was shown a photo of a slide of a beautiful pattern of mineral deposits. Clearly micromorphology is a most valuable source of post excavation scientific information – but it is also a process that produces great beauty.
My portrait of micromorphologist, Jo, makes her look too dreamy when, while I was drawing, she was giving me a lively account of the process. But she says my portraits give a sense of the person rather than a photographic likeness. This could be said of my whole project. I am trying to portray a sense of the dig – of being there. So accuracy is not a factor and my random approach is therefore suitable, and will serve the purpose of adding to the site record.
While they take photos and soil samples, I draw the moment.