By Bernie Bell
The archaeology dig at the Ness of Brodgar had to be cancelled for this year, as did many other digs and events, due to – well – you know what.
A long-standing supporter of Orkney archaeology, Sigurd Towrie, decided to put together a ‘dig diary’ for what would have been the duration of the dig this year, by trawling back through past dig diaries for the Ness, and also including some new items of his own, and by other members of the Ness team.
I found this to be of great interest. I follow the dig diaries, and visit the dig, when I can. Having all those years, pulled together, gave another dimension to my memories, and knowledge, of the place.
One aspect of this year’s ‘dig diary’ which stood out for me, in particular, is Sigurd following the development of what started off as Trench T. I remember seeing the first aerial picture of Trench T, in 2014, and saying to myself “Now, there’s something.”
Trench T has expanded, and is now sub-divided into numbered structures. It’s gone through being suspected of being a Neolithic burial chamber, through various permutations and opinions, and, by the end of the 2019 dig season, was still a mystery.
One of the mysteries about the place, to me, is …..the Neolithic is represented, the Iron Age is represented – where is the Bronze Age? Which came in between. Still to be found, maybe?
Local artist Jeanne Bouza Rose has been one of the Artists in Residence at the Ness for the past few years https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/from-the-art-hut-hooked-on-the-neolithic/, and has produced a painting of the ‘view’ from the Trench T area. I believe the position of ‘Trench T’ to be significant. We’ll have to wait and see what further discoveries are made there.
Jeanne would like to add…..”This “plein air” original oil painting is for sale. The proceeds support the work at the Ness.
Because of the unique situation this year, “plein air” works are the only pieces of artwork being made on or near the site this dig season. They measure 6 x 6 inches /15 x 15 cm. To purchase, please contact the artist directly, Jeanne Bouza Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your support.”
To see more of Jeanne’s recent art-work – you could check out her Facebook page….. https://en-gb.facebook.com/OrkneyArtWorks/
As well as pieces from past dig diaries, Sigurd presented new material. One piece which he wrote himself, which particularly caught my attention, is this one… https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/a-natural-cursus-water-walls-and-walking-the-ness/ , which brings together many of the themes in the thinking behind and about, not only The Ness, but the whole Neolithic Heart of Orkney. Water – land – sky – stone. It’s an absolute doozy of a piece – I read it, slowly, absorbing.
Another ‘over-view’ piece, is exactly that – a piece which includes lots of aerial images of the whole of the Brodgar area…
I found this to be fascinating, and invaluable, in enabling me to place where different structures are, and where they are in relation to each other. With the best will in the world, and even with what must be one of the best ‘eyes’ for archaeology, as evidenced by site Director Nick Card, it is hard to work it all out, and envision it. As one of my sisters said to me “But Bernie, it’s just a load of old stones.” From the air, that load of old stones takes shape more clearly.
This piece by Sigurd Towrie is something to hold on to, and refer to again and again, as the work develops.
From big over-views, Sigurd homes in on details – the presence of pumice at the Ness…. https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/focus-on-finds-pumice/ . Maybe a bit of a niche interest!
He includes pieces about wonderful axe-heads, mace heads and other shaped stones found at the Ness. I have my own photos of some of these, and will present you with a few of my favourites –
The first, has to be what I refer to as the Extra-Ordinary-A-Symmetrical-Six-Knobber, because – that’s what it is…..
What I call the Sky Stone, because it reminds me of a summer sky….
And a nice piece of Banded Gneiss – OK – I couldn’t resist that…….
There have been some absolute beauties discovered at the Ness – beauties of shape and colour. Banded, clear, coloured, cloudy sky – and – will there be more to come? I bet there will.
I won’t even start on the wonderful mini series on the pottery by the ceramics expert at the Ness, Roy Towers……..
So much has been found, and items in Sigurd’s dig diary take us through the possible methods of production, as well as the varied shapes and styles of decoration.
Then, there are the bones – animal and human – which have been discovered at the Ness, and what they can potentially tell us about the life and ceremonies of the folk of that time.
If you’d like to read more of Sigurd’s dig diary for 2020, it starts here……. https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/no-excavation-but-dig-diary-dusted-off-for-2020/
If you’re interested in the dig, generally, you could have a look at the Ness of Brodgar Trust website https://www.nessofbrodgar.co.uk/trust/ , and, while you’re there, if you’d like to donate to help to ensure that the exploration of this extra-ordinary site can continue – that would be A GOOD THING!
It remains for me to propose a vote of thanks to Sigurd Towrie for having the idea of putting this dig diary together, and then for taking all the time and trouble which it must have taken, to actually put it together, and present us with so much archaeological food for thought, in a time of famine.
The ’feast’ at the Ness should continue next year. Meanwhile, to help to tide us over there will be two new volumes coming out this year
A major interim monograph ‘The Ness of Brodgar: as it stands’ due out in December – a richly illustrated and detailed summary of the all the work done to date with contributions by many of the specialists involved.
but before that in September Landscapes Revealed: Remote Sensing Across the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site that details a programme of geophysical and related survey across an area between Skara Brae and Maeshowe – including the geophysics done at the Ness