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The Ness of Brodgar Dig Diary

Dig Diary – Monday, July 11, 2016

From the trenches

David MacInnes

A stunning view of the standing stone in the plaza, by Jo Bourne. The original south entrance to Structure One is visible behind.














I first learned about the Ness while reading a National Geographic article a couple of years ago, at the insistence of my mother, who knows me better than I know myself.

Although I had my 60th trip around the sun some time ago, this simple, seemingly inconsequential act slowly diverted my interests away from retirement in Nova Scotia, carrying me away to study archaeology at a little-known college off the north coast of Scotland.

It still seems all so surreal that this has happened; and, best of all, the other students have been so generous with their friendship accepting me as one of them.

I have travelled the backcountry of Nova Scotia, by canoe, since I was a boy and have recently learned that the song of the paddle has much in common with that of the trowel.

The paddle sings its soft and subtle melody as its rhythm and pitch find a pleasant harmony with ever-changing wind and current. The trowel finds its own melody, as it seeks its way through earth and over stone with a pleasant lilt and tone for those who are willing to listen.

The knees and back make their familiar complaints, but for those who listen to the quiet songs, there is much to learn both in the deep woods and in the digger’s trench.

For the song of the paddle and the trowel empty the mind of the habitual concerns of the thing that is called life, granting unguarded perception to those who wish to listen.

At the Ness there is a modest and quiet little flagstone paved space, at the back of the trench, adjacent to the spoil heap that has earned a special name.

It is the plaza..

And, in the plaza, there is a vertical stone that has been christened a standing stone. We have all learned about the tendency to impart our perceptions and values to the things made by people from other cultures, so we all know this may not be the central public place of the Ness.

However, as I knelt before the standing stone and bowed my head, while cleaning it, I let my trowel sing its song to take me to the plaza as it once may have been.

The rhythm and pitch waxed and waned throughout the day, while I watched the trowel clean the stones while patiently waiting for its song.

The first verse was uncertainty and worry, desperately seeking an answer from the God of the Stone about a difficult, unspeakable, life-changing decision. And then, as I stood and took in the sky and surrounding landscape, there was joy, friendship and laughter, with big clay pots filled with the timeless luxury of the barleycorn.

As rain threatened, there were earnest and anxious whispers about how the world would be a better place without the folks over at Number Ten. There was also a mother’s forlorn lament to the all-powerful stone as she tried to make sense of the impossible loss of her newborn child, buried nearby.

But, wherever the song wandered, it returned, again and again, to a soothing familiarity with the person who once cleaned these stones long before I took my turn.

In the departing verse, the rhythm grew softer and then disappeared into a fading whisper after I pushed the moment too far and clumsily allowed myself to think rather than be. Did the standing stone comfort those who cleaned the floor, or was it an oppressive weight?

The moment was forever lost in the impulsive pursuit of a certainty that neither the song of the paddle nor the trowel can reveal.

A heartfelt thanks to everyone . . .

David MacInnes

More of the Dig Diary….http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/