Small Is Beautiful

By Bernie Bell

Pics by B&M Bell

The dig at the Ness of Brodgar  is on a more limited scale this year. This is a wise precaution in these times of Covid and I was pleased to see that the dig is happening at all, as I realise just how much planning and thought will have been needed to work out how this could be done safely, and yet allow the public to get an idea of what the full dig is like – and hopefully will be again in years to come!

Some of the trenches have been freed from their protective tyres and tarpaulins and are being excavated by a small band of archaeologists – keeping their distance from each other –  and from the public too!

We followed the sign for the site…

……………..parked up and were met by a man who explained the one-way system to us.  We’d taken our masks as a precaution, but as we were out doors and everyone kept their distance, we didn’t need to wear them.  There are no actual guided tours this year, but with a one-way system in place the pilgrim – sorry, visitor – can see what is to be seen.  No viewing platform either, so I’ll bung in a photo from 2019, to give an idea of how the dig was progressing and what could be seen from the viewing platform when it was there……..

The viewing platform is A GOOD THING.

This year the focus is on the floor deposits within the buildings, helping to reveal more detail of how these structures functioned throughout their lifetime. This is just as important as the more eye-catching finds – there’s a lot to be learnt from a Spladonga………….

Very dry conditions and sunshine are not helpful when it comes to seeing differences in colouration in the sections which are being dug.  Equally, thrashing rain and howling gales aren’t helpful either. A misty-moisty day is good – so far this year the Ness has had a mixture of bright sunshine, fog and mizzle.  The misty-moisty days were a boon.

First, we went over to our left to Trench J…

………..which has some interesting shapes and structures….

I noticed a big shaped stone….

…and wondered….

Finds from Trench J have already included a bi-facially flaked flint – also known as a fabricator.  That got me singing, based on ‘The Hot Stepper’ by Ini Kamoze ….

“Here come the sharp cutter

Dig it up

It’s the flint fabricator

Dig it up

Excuse me mista’ digger

Dig it up

What ya’ think about that?”

The beautiful worked flint fabricator from Trench J. (Sigurd Towrie)

And a small piece of polished haematite.  Haematite is a lovely rich reddish/black colour – looks particularly good when polished – and when used to decorate other materials can make them glow too. It’s not naturally occurring near the Ness, so it must have been brought there.

Is Trench J going to be a treasure-trove for 2021? 

What might be found under the next section?

We then walked over to look at Trench P – THE BIG ONE – containing……lots!!!!

And from there, turning right, started on the one-way system…..

…admiring the Hoy Hills across the water – as they were back then, too……

Following a flow of tyres……..

…to Structure 12.

The information board includes an image by site Director Nick Card of a Garden Tiger Moth which had landed next to the Brodgar ‘Butterfly’…

Nick has a good eye for more than archaeology, as evidenced by the images on this set of cards………

Structure 12 includes some fiiiine stonework….

And this year, so far, in Structure 12 they’ve found big bones and pieces of big pots. Was this a communal kitchen to feed all those hungry pilgrims?

For me, the following is an image of the essence of this year’s dig – part revealed, part still covered – waiting……

It’s not all about digging – recording matters too – a lot…

Keeping to the one-way system –  passing Loch View ….

……and viewing Structure 10 ……….

Today’s footprints…..

…not yesterday’s fingerprints……

The system devised for getting people around the site is very well thought out – there is much to see, and one thing leads on from another in a way which works very well indeed.  We walked round once – then walked round again –  then, with one last look at Trench P, accepted that we should leave it be  – for this time.

The Big Red Barrel is there as usual for donations – which are more important than ever as the dig relies heavily on the generosity of the public visiting, and Open Days – which can’t happen this year.  So, please, if you go along to the dig, do dig deep into your pockets and purses and …..DONATE!

There is also a shop in which you can buy good things, where Rhona is at the door, ready to bring your purchases to you…..

The shop has the Ness calendar for 2022 – if you can’t get to the Ness, the calendar is also available in the on-line shop, which also stocks 3D models of the Ness structures by Mark Newton…..

The dig is open until the 11th August, daily  – not weekends – from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm.

As in previous years there is a daily Dig Diary  which means that folk can follow how the dig progresses, either after their visit, or if they can’t get to Orkney.

Past years at The Ness ……

This year it’s small – but beautiful.

Categories: Uncategorized

Tagged as: , , , , , ,

9 replies »

  1. Oh we loved that, thanks so much. We are perishing Togo back to Orkney and to the Ness which was closed but he time we were there in 2019. Such an amazing place. Orkney, and particularly Skara Brae were the only things on my lifetime Bucket List and I finally got to see it when I was 75, so now we have to keep going back and back and back to make sure we have seen everything before I run out of years. A truly magical place, and thank you for excavating and preserving the wonderful treasures there.
    Sharon and James Marshall, San Pedro California. My husband is from Musselburgh originally and only moved to the states in 2000, and he had never been to Orkney.

    • Thank you Sharon and James – I’m glad you enjoyed your walk around the Ness!
      And I hope that, when the world is different, you get back to Orkney and can see for yourselves how all the on-going digs are progressing. There’s a lot being found here, and a lot to be found! The OAS Facebook page is good for keeping track of developments…

      And also, of course – The Orkney News!

  2. Thank you so much for this. I’m so eager to return. I hope to bring my grown-up grandkids with me in 2022. Stay safe. Stay well.

  3. Thank you for all your stories. Orkney seems even further away from Australia these days, than it did before. I visited long before the Ness excavations began, but I will get back.. one day!

Leave a Reply