Now, don’t let the title of this blog post fool you because my return to the Links of Noltland for three weeks of digging last month were an absolute blast! I’d meant to write a post about the dig much sooner than this but unfortunately a combination of hardly having been in Glasgow since my return and a colossal hard drive failure from my laptop meant there’s been a lot to catch up on this past week or two. Also – apologies for the crummy quality of some of the photos, I just had my iPhone camera on me while I was digging (and it’s an old phone) so they’re a bit over exposed and burnt out.
If you follow the blog you’ll know that I’ve been up to Westray a fair few times now as part of an ongoing visualisation project for Historic Scotland but this year I returned after our visualisation fieldwork to dig on the site for a few weeks in August/September. It had been a couple of years since I’d properly done any digging so it was great to get my trowel back in the game, though admittedly I was a little anxious as I knew how complex the site was so it felt a little bit like being thrown in at the deep end in more ways than one!
Not only is the site enormous, but there’s so much going on archaeologically, not to mention the weather – the site is right on an exposed bit of windy northerly coastline and I maintain that you don’t know true hardship resulting in total humiliation until you’ve tried to battle a giant drawing board and planning frame down a treacherous path of suspended wooden planks into the trench and lost. It probably didn’t help that before my return to the site I’d deemed my regular waterproof jacket to be unsuitable for Westray weather and inherited an old heavy duty high vis work jacket of my Dad’s when I stopped off in Inverness on my drive up to Orkney. Introducing what’s essentially a high vis parachute into that situation was perhaps not in my best interests. But rest assured no archaeology was harmed during my flights in and out of the trench.
First off I was given my own Neolithic house to excavate – I’ll say that again in case the weight of it didn’t come across…My. Own. Neolithic. House. All to myself to dig. Seriously. Now, how many archaeologists can say that? Even as someone at fairly early career stage I know digging this site is going to stay with me as one of the most unique and exciting excavations I’ll ever stick my trowel into.
The site stratigraphy can get pretty complicated in places so the first day or so I felt like I was perhaps being a little overly delicate with the layers of rubble, soil and occupation I was working with on the structure floor. I soon got the feel for what was happening in Structure 24 and could easily pick out the areas which felt like they’d been well trampled over years of occupation and later deposits of rubble from stone robbing and the like. Cleaning back the more rubbly contexts I found a few things of note…
I realise now looking back on this post that my photos make it look as though I was digging an enormous site alone, obviously I wasn’t, the site is just so large that everyone is working quite far apart from one another! In reality I was working alongside a fantastic bunch of people who were not only top notch archaeologists but were a great laugh too.
I’ve always advocated the importance of beginning the visualisation process in the field and incorporating specialists and artists into the ongoing fieldwork and interpretive process as opposed to patching some visualisation on to the end of a project, so my relationship with Noltland has always been a great one because we’ve been involved with the site and the excavations for the past couple of years now. Add to that the opportunity to actually dig the site, adopting a more active role in the excavations (rather than a largely observational one), and the site evolves a whole new level of understanding – I’m excited to incorporate those experiences into the visual work we’re producing for the site…