Saturday, 22 August 2009
Ness of Brodgar dig
I was standing in the middle of a field, with rain dripping off my nose, holding a stone mace head that, up until a few weeks ago, had lain hidden under tons of earth for the last 5,000 years...... I can't really find the words to express the feeling, but it *was* brilliant!
I'd finally got a chance to go and visit the Ness of Brodgar dig. (This blog post won't do justice to the site and all the hard work of the archaeologists, so do take a look at *their* blog.) Unfortunately the day I was over on the Orkney Mainland was also A Very Blustery Day (as Winnie The Pooh would say) and it was chucking it down, rainwise. However undaunted I parked on the edge of the dig and joined around 30 other enthusiastic people to hear one of the team working on the dig give us some insight into what they had been doing this summer.
The excitement of the young archaeologist giving us the guided tour was palpable. The dig had been revealing it's secrets slowly but surely. Stones with curious markings, the remains of a shattered but still upright standing stone, pieces of pottery, an axe head, and the beautiful smooth remains of the mace head that I held in my hand.
The site is huge and, thankfully, funding has been found to continue the work next year. There are tempting glimpses of other structures yet to be revealed, and the geophysics hinting at past shapes of stone structures.
The stone walls are made of sandstone which naturally breaks very cleanly so the old walls look like "dressed" stone, with clean lines. No one is yet sure what the site would have been used for. Several of the structures are too big to be domestic dwellings, so the archeologists are piecing together the evidece as they slowly scrape and sift through all the earth that has covered the site for thousands of years.
And right through the middle of the site is a Scottish Water mains water main! This was put in during the 1960's when no one was really aware of what lay beneath. One can imagine the cursing and swearing that went on as the workmen tried to lay pipe through all that stone. In one sense it seemed sacrilege to see the water main cutting it's linear way through the ancient stone settlement, yet in another, it felt like a natural continuity as humankind makes its mark on the landscape, generation after generation.
And another team of archaeologists are excavating on the island of Westray (Links of Notland) and this week unearthed a neolithic carving of a human figure (picture and report here). It's reported to be the earliest carving of a human figure found in Scotland. It's tiny (3.5 cm x 3 cm) but is a significant find. Well it has been said that "scratch the surface of Orkney and it bleeds archeology" and that's certainly been true this year.
My memory will hold the feeling of the stone mace and I will continue to wonder at the craftsman who carefully fashioned the stone into a working tool with skill, patience and effort over five thousand years ago.......
(Sunday note: I've just found some information on a dig going on at the Brough of Deerness (East Mainland of Orkney) too - for more info click here