Orkney Dispatch: July 31, 2015

by Aidanne MacDonald-Milewski

Good morning from Orkney! This has been quite the week. I'm learning so much by working at the Ness! 

Last Thursday I learned how to sort organic materials that are found in soil samples by a process called flotation, where you soak the sample with water to wash away the mud and gently sieve off whatever floats. 

Last Friday I spent troweling away, but within the last hour of the day, I found a broken piece of pottery, a piece of flint, and a round, worked stone pot lid! I don't think I could have ended the week on a better note.


Then Saturday, our group of students went to the island of Rousay, which was truly something to see because it had Neolithic, Iron Age, Pictish, Viking Age and Medieval period structures present in a relatively small area! We were able to visit Midhowe cairn, Midhowe broch and three different burial mounds, two of which were excavated. It was really interesting to see the layers of occupation at Midhowe broch, because the broch was from the Neolithic period and the surrounding side houses were of the Pictish style. That day we were gone from 9:30am—6:30pm, so it was a long day but a good one!

Then Sunday was "open day" at the Ness. This is a day that is geared toward educating the local people who can't make it to the site during the work week, about what's newly found at the Ness. That meant though that we were working again, troweling away! I posted this picture because I'm becoming very attached to this piece of the trench! But I also learned a bit about the culture of the Neolithic people, such as how they drilled stone to make tools, and how they used different resources around them (such as volcanic rock, charcoal, bones) to make paints! I also learned the methods by which they likely carved stones which was all really interesting!

Then Monday and Tuesday I continued to trowel away, trying to determine where the edge of the midden pits of my part of trench t were! It's neat being able to see the different soil deposits so clearly after digging in the same one for days! Then, Tuesday night I went to a lecture held by Martin Carrithers on Iron Age Orkney's Neolithic inheritance where he described examples of how the Iron Age people reused Neolithic structures to build their own, which was different from the Bronze Age people who built their settlements around Neolithic sites. 

Wednesday and yesterday I was taught how to carry out a pre-excavation plan, so I've been transferring what I see on the ground to scale on gridded paper! I really like this process, I think I've enjoyed it the most of everything I've done so far, however, obviously finding things by troweling is an amazing feeling!

Also, if any of you are interested in knowing what's going on in trench t more extensively, yesterday's orkneyjar Ness of Brodgar dig diary blog featured trench t! And I wrote part of the blog post! I will post the link later but for now I have to go! Back to the drawing board.