In Trench T they are uncovering an Iron Age wall around a structure, which is built over, and through, the Neolithic. There must be many reasons why they chose to reuse the site, but perhaps one was that it commands a magnificent view all round. The panorama includes the Stenness Stones, Maeshowe, the Ring of Brodgar and several Iron Age broths.
It is the last week of the dig. There is a sense of quiet urgency to complete tasks, removing finds and ensuring records are up to date. I feel this too. Alongside my list of stuff to do, is an awareness of how much still remains to be done – and a wish to simply carry on painting, regardless of any sense of purpose. Maybe tomorrow…
Is the desire to connect to the past an old age thing? What exactly is the ‘Rapture of the Archive’? If I analyse my personal buzz (the hand that held/holds the crayon) will I understand others – why archaeologists dig, and essentially destroy, what they find in order to literally and metaphorically uncover the past? I’m sure many books have been written on this but it is my direct phenomenological experience, which leads me on in this project.
Open Day on site – so I used the need to stay in the Art Hut, to be available for visitors, as an opportunity to play with my collection of stones – now trying a Neolithic version of oil paint by mixing crushed stone with beef dripping. This is based on pure speculation that the ready access to cattle fat and silt stone might have been combined.
These ‘oil paint’ samples (bottom row) make a deeper colour than the dry chalk (top row) or when mixed with water (middle row). It will be interesting to see how the ‘oil’ colours dry, and whether beef dripping oxidises like linseed oil.
However the most vivid colour comes from a good ‘chalk’ colour directly on to stone. NB – must consult The Rock Lady about this.
Yesterday, a second quick painting of an archaeologist in the trench. At last I am beginning to paint with the same direct approach that I have for drawing. A shame the dig ends next week, just as I’m getting into my stride. Something to continue when back home in my studio.
Another innovation was being introduced to the amazing comfort of sitting in a tipped up wheelbarrow while painting. The handles rest on the ground and you sit on the side between the handles with your back resting on the base of the wheelbarrow.
Despite our very diverse art practices, the combined efforts of the Art Hut have produced an installation in the display case on site, in time for the open day on Sunday. A successful collaboration is always a satisfying experience.
A small piece of flint with a sharp edge has been found in Trench X. It doesn’t fit known examples of flint tools; but, like yesterday’s ‘crayon’ has an indentation for a finger or thumb that facilitates a good grip. Perhaps it was used to cut or scrape incisions in stone. The size is similar to the ‘crayon’ and does suggest being a tool with a purpose. A knife for the art box?
To make use of the display cabinet in collaboration with the other artist in residence, I began to experiment with the pigment sticks made by Bristol Fine Art to match last year’s colour samples of haematite. Fun to play with but not right for my first contribution of a drawing of the sky.
And here are today’s sketchbook drawings:
My random collection of stone marks and bags of dust have relevance. A ‘crayon’ was found and, because the archaeologists know my interest, I got the chance to draw it and – most importantly to hold it. It fits my hand perfectly as an ergonomic drawing implement. What is more, there is an indent for the thumb of my right hand and a different indent beside that for my left thumb. There is clearly a working end where the stone is softer and makes a darker mark than the non-business end, which is harder and scratchier. To hold this ‘worked stone’ and know that a Neolithic hand was ‘drawing’ with it 5000 years ago is beyond exciting. The connection between present and past is highly potent.
Chris, who found the ‘crayon’ outside the entrance to Structure 8.
Later in the day, I was able to go inside Structure 8 to make a painting.
Previously, because my paintings have been done outside the trenches, they have all been views of the landscape with any figures quite small in the distance. Today, being in the trench, I could attempt to paint the archaeologists up close – not easy as they keep moving but nevertheless enjoyable.
For more news of the dig visit the daily dig diary on the Ness of Brodgar web site
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