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The Ness of Brodgar Project Manager, who is in charge of finds, together with the resident geologist ‘The Rock Lady’ encourage me to experiment in mark making with rocks from the site.  These are usually silt stone or sandstone.

For the past two years I have made ‘spot’ paintings using a range of mediums for each rock: dry marks, mixed with water, and ground in beef fat. It is a mock scientific experiment in which I simply enjoy the amazing range of colours apparent through different amounts of iron oxide – from the palest pinks and ochres through to dark ‘Venetian’ reds.

Today, by way of a rest from contemplating my relationship with archaeology, I returned to play with pigments.  Any suitable rock is put in a bag with a sample of its dry mark on paper.  There are a lot of them, and more to do. I’ve not yet decided what the next stage will be…

Meanwhile, sketchbook drawing continues to monitor progress in my favourite trenches, and as I had the Art Hut to myself today, I was able to do a portrait of Therese – who found a beautiful axe head last year.


On the necessity of decisions.

Today one of the supervising archaeologists said this:

If we are not making decisions we are not solving the problem. You have to take a decision when you are digging. If it is a correct decision then it’s fine – you are doing things well. But if it was a wrong decision, the fact that you know it was a wrong decision will help you understand what was going on – so that you can solve the problem. But if you are not making a decision, you will be moving around the problem without solving it. So this is why we have to take decisions. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are not right – that’s it.

This reminds me of Brecht’s ‘right to fail’ – relevant in so many situations.  Obviously it applies when I draw – especially fast sketching, which is a hit and miss affair when decisions have to be made on the spur of the moment. But it is also apparent in my film making, where I must take decisions to select what to use out of the chaotic mound of material, in order to create an impression of the dig – rather than get bogged down in trying to represent everything literally.

The film, by the way, is now progressing and I hope to have something to show the archaeologists before the end of this year’s dig.

Two drawings today:

Work in Trench J, around a hearth, and an update on the corner of loveliness.


Finally a watercolour of mist sitting on the hills behind Trench T.

Don’t forget that all the news from the Ness of Brodgar can be seen on the Dig Diary at http://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk


It seems everything gets bigger and more complex – including this project.  For the Ness of Brodgar this means both enlarging trenches to discover more archaeology, and amazing advances in technology.

Today I revisited a particular viewpoint at the upper end of Trench T, which has expanded every year since I first came in 2016. This season has seen the addition of two triangular extensions on either side.

Compare this with my earlier drawing and paintings


There is a new drone being used to map the trenches,  including work in combination with other technologies.

It possesses advanced capabilities way beyond my comprehension – but clearly has exciting implications for understanding the site.

Finally to return to something smaller I drew work continuing in the space between Structures 12 and 26 – also now known as ‘the corner of loveliness’.


There was no digging yesterday due to the storms – so a chance to work at home on the film, editing sound. It’s a very slow process, sifting through recordings to find the few moments that make the best contribution to the storyline – if that’s the right word for a never ending chronicle. It is like working with found objects that never quite fit the agenda.  On the other hand repeated listening throws up small gems – like the Total Station used in Geomatics making little beeps and saying, in an alien voice, “point stored”, or the distinctive quacks of Eider Ducks on the loch.

Back on site to day for more surprises and new experiences. The suspected passage between Structures 12 and 26 now looks like a small oval chamber, with the appearance of small curved walls either side.

I also witnessed, for the first time, the demolition of a wall of earth between Trench T and one of it’s new extensions. A lot of vigorous movement achieving rapid change.


A note on the weather: while my home town in the south of England swelters in heat over 30c, here in Orkney it is a pleasant 19c with a brisk wind keeping the midges at bay…


Yesterday I was mainly embracing the unexpected in archaeology and the potentially chaotic in my art practice.

Many of the structures on the Ness of Brodgar site are built over earlier buildings. So when excavating the structure nearest the surface, earlier ones suddenly appear. On either side of this drawing are the two early structures that have emerged within the main excavation.

There are also unusual features that appear within a structure where least expected – like a small orthostat (upright stone) running parallel in front of a big one.

Added to this, lovely pieces of decoration are found, like the cup-marking made by ‘pecking’ in a stone beside an entrance. These cup-markings and cupules occur on many sites. (One of the archaeologists showed me a photo of spectacular ones at Kilmartin Glen in Argyle.) No-one can be sure of their meaning or the intentions behind them. The temptation is to call them ‘art’, which is not only questionable but also a modern concept. All one can say is that someone or some people left their mark.


So can I call what I am doing in this residency ‘art’?  I am documenting activity on the Ness dig through a collection of drawings, plein air painted sketches, and sound recordings. The film I make using this material is aimed at evoking a sense of being on site and my experience within it.  This is all bound up in my curiosity to research the world around me – as a way of coming to terms with its, and my, existence. But it could easily be described as journalism without a camera, rather than art…

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