Professor Scott Pike to present his work with students and innovative research on premier Neolithic dig

At the 2011 annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Minneapolis, Environmental and Earth Sciences' Scott Pike will present his post-session work with students on the Neolithic archaeological site at the Ness of Brogdar in Orkney, Scotland.

The post-session, entitled “Dig the Neolithic,” invited students to excavate at the UNESCO’s Heart of the Neolithic World Heritage Site at Orkney — listed by the Archaeological Institute of America as one of the 15 “most significant discoveries of 2009.”

The site is a complex of a large, peculiar structures, the concentration and size of which have no parallels in northern Europe. The site sits on a spit of land separating two lakes and linking the stone circle of the Stones of Steness and the Ring of Brogdar. The narrow land was thought to be a natural until recent excavations indicated the spit of land is largely human made.

Initially, researchers believed the two stone circles to be the central focus of the area. After further research, including Pike’s, teams are finding that the space in-between the rings presents a more compelling mystery.

Pushing the boundaries

Pike’s research focuses on the field use of a portable XRF— an instrument that measures elemental concentrations of artifacts and soil. The technology itself isn’t new, but the ability to transport the technology into the field is recent   Pike used the technology to detect variations of element concentrations on the floor of “Structure 10”— one of the largest and most confusing structures of the site.

“At first, the space of this immense structure had the shape of a cathedral, a term which unfortunately was headlined by the media. But after further excavation and research, we’re not sure for what or how the building was used,” Pike says. “By using the pXRF technology to analyze the chemical fingerprints on the floor, we will hopefully be able to get a better idea of how space was used in structure.”

During his most recent visit to the Ness, Pike discovered spikes of trace metals in one corner of the structure, in line with the unearthing of grinding stones and raw ore likely used for pigment production. He says the geochemical and archaeological data likely indicates that the area was used for something like a painter’s workshop.

Reaching around the globe

Willamette is the first and only North American university involved in the excavation, and Pike was accompanied by eleven students to Scotland. Kiki Garey-Sage ’12 thanks Willamette for offering her the unique opportunity.

“A lot of people were really surprised to learn that I was a biology major,” she says. “I’m so grateful that I’m at a liberal arts college where it was possible for me to do this. It was an unforgettable experience and completely life changing.”

Garey-Sage and the other students worked with advisors from the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology learning excavation and recording techniques such as geophysical survey, post-excavation procedures, field survey and a method called “floatation.”

“This is one of the premier archaeological digs of the decade,” said Pike. “It is an incredible opportunity for our students to participate in field research of this caliber.”

This year’s GSA Meeting is themed “Archean to Anthropocene: The Past is the Key to the Future,” and Pike’s lecture will join an assortment of other sessions, short courses, workshops, and events.

For more information on student post sessions, visit the Office of International Education website.