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WALLS WHEN August 12th 2011

Had intended to make my third visit of the digging season to the Ness of Brodgar midweek, however the weather report for then sounded uncertain and so I decided to take advantage of this fine day. Actually when I reached the Brodgar road by bus I did encounter a brief period of light rain, enough to make me thankful for a jacket but not enough to dampen the spirits. Simply had to take photos of the panoramic vistas about me because the light in the distance so clear. If the bowl of land in which the Great Sacred Monuments of Stenness sits is measured from Bookan in the north to Bigswell in the south then the centre is abouthands of the junction [? Barnhouse Stone], and those are the extreme ends of the recorded mediaeval ritual peregrination. The seals were out bathing again on first few of the larger rocks in the Loch of Stenness (once the Loch of Voy, with the Loch of Harray called Muckle Water). At first you only see them if their backs are arched, otherwise they seem identical to the rocks nearer the ness. On the east side of the ness by the other end of the bridge (originally only very large stepping stones crossed the gap) a swan pair occupied their usual nest, the grey gosling nearing their size. Some small bird called to me from across the way but didnae show itself. On this side going up there are usually fulmars gliding by the low 'cliff' but I haven't noticed any this year - mind you it is late in their season for there is only one nesting at the Bay of Scapa now.

Reached the Ness of Brodgar in between the guided tours, so decided not to ask to look at the finds. Re Brodgar Boy what in one view did look idol-like (despite that lop-sided third 'eye') in another was distinctly a broken-off top with a short 'stem' at the bottom. Now that the rest has been found the object is two-and-a-half times as long and looks like a mini-staff (could be a 'baton de commandement' - the archaeologists name for a symbol of authority and/or for ceremonies - or a representation of one). Including the 'neck' and that stem there are three circumferential grooves that might have been for rope - you can easily imagine it with tassels ! In digging the midden of Structure Eight they have found a stone incised with an earth sign [Pars Fortuna].

Structure One has so far produced several dozen incised stones, the last what what they take for a representation of a comet (but a circle with three trailing lines has other meanings). But the most common symbol is what they are calling a double-triangle and associating with a bee, though these also been 'read' elsewhere as butterflies (contrast this with Banks Chambered Tomb's vees/chevrons, which are seen as birds). Pre C14 dating one at Stonehenge was wrongly identified with the Cretan labrys (double-axe). Much has been made of Stenness infuence on the Avebury area, so is this another indicator ? Finally on site the Neolithic roof tiles were removed, only for more to be revealed at the same place after further digging - the imp of the perverse wonders if this is a dump rather than collapse in sensu strictu.
Despite the very strong wind the first thing that I did was go up the viewing platform. The lighting being distinctly flat all structures tended to merge - in these conditions what is needed for photographing features is a little light rain I recall. First new item to 'pop out' the monumental hearth in Structure Ten. ImmediatelyI thought of the one in the Stones of Stenness circle, though I think comparisons will instead be made with Barnhouse 'village'. Next I saw a long slab with ends framed by angle topped orthostats. This must be the probable Structure Ten entrance they have found - having been caught out before by dodgy contexts they are holding back judgement until they can be certain it does not belong to another period or structure (I saw what could be another rectangular feature [or part of a passage/'street'] directly in front of it). Coming down again it did not surprise me that nothing further has happened to the NE corner that took my fancy when I came here with Orkney Blide Trust the previous week (not realising we would stay for the whole 90 minute tour I'd had to come back for The Work photography) as it is at the very edge of the dig. The day I came seemed to be dedicated to cleaning and recording several parts of the site so I tried to avoid getting in their way.
Nothing major looks to have appeared in the sides overlooked by the spoil heaps - I would dearly love to find out where that drain goes to in the piece by the western edge. Filling the appended SW corner Structure Twelve presently sits in comparative isolation from the rest of the buildings it feels to me. Either that will change in future seasons or it is really telling us something. Going round the final side and that massive squat standing stone still has pride of place in the SE corner. Does it extend much below what we see now or will it prove as shallow rooted as the red orthostat they have recently removed ?
Last year they lterally got to the bottom of the Lesser Wall of Brodgar, only to find that it stood on paving and possibly earlier structures. This year geophysics has confirmed that it goes between the sides of the ness and so it is back to being part of a wall circuit encompassing the site they are investigating (could the paving be an extended base ??). The Kockna-Cumming chambered mound still lies outside the whole and the Brodgar Standing Stone Pair straddle the wall. Are the stones from a prior age or were they put there later than the wall, either much later to show where it was or immediately after to mark it out ? Don't be misled by its narrowness in comparison to the Great Wall as only a ditch seperated the 4m thick Great Wall from one ouside of it 'only' 2m thick. Still thicker though - might there be a presently unlocated other Great Wall in parts still virgin to excavation ?? If the remains below the Lesser Wall are from an earlier period then might we re-interpret the putatative structures and likely hearth found in testing outside the Great Wall as coming from that time too instead of post-dating the wall as originally theorised? Certainly the public perception of the wall's primacy needs revising. Indeed it is my opinion the that the Great Wall (and possibly the circuit) comes yet later in the scheme of things than first thought.

Going back the sun illuminated the Stones of Stenness circle perfectly. Every detail of the northern side of one tall stone turned 3D like a thoroughly pox-marked face. This stone is such a pure geometric shape that any modern mason would be proud to own up to it. Two other stones seen almost on edge could be merged into one or turn into a very tight V like fanning fingers by only taking a few paces forward or back. I noticed that the top of the low stone group could be made to match the gap between two facing hillslopes above the south side of Finstown. Unfortunately I haven't managed to capture this in the shot I took, and anyway the setting has been re-erected twice [that we know of] to match changing fashions in interpretation.
At the junction I turned left onto the main road as I had plenty of time before the next bus. At one stage I looked behind me and saw an oddly coloured high-sided vehicle. Only as it passed me did I see it as a double-decker. This was a twin blow as not only did I need the bus but I had been especially eager to ride a double-decker as these are a new thing to Orkney and should give the car-less new perspectives on features in the landscape. Just not to be I fear. Away from the south side of the road I noticed that a small section of a long mound, or mounds, had become further exposed. All I could see was stone and I looked forward to making something out at last when I uploaded the photos to my PC. So my diappointment can be imagined when all that appears onscreen is a natural rocky creamy outcrop. About now the constipation tablet kicked in [an error for the opposite I noticed too late on swallowing !]. By some supreme effort I managed to reach the bus shelter at the Dounby road junction. Unfortunately for a seat it had narrow tilted 'board'. And naturally the bus arrived even later than expected - at certain times only the beginning and end are fixed, all other stops a movable feast. On the other hand I have known some drivers come to a stop five minutes or more before due time and not wait for passengers to come but go straight on. Which is "a bit of a bummer" if you are only twa minutes from reaching it !! Thank goodness there were toilets open at the bus station, as though 'things' had settled down the toilets at the Shapinsay slip might have been a step too far. Still, mission accomplished.

wideford Posted by wideford
21st August 2011ce

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