If you've never dug in Orkney or Shetland you're probably blissfully unaware of the terror that the phrase 'let's get that cleaned up for a photograph' instills in the hearts of hardened diggers. Steve our beloved director is a master of archaeological photography and has very high standards, hence expects a certain amount of perfection in his photo cleans. He also has a habit of adding a time limit as in 'have that ready for a photo by 4 o'clock' which does focus the mind a little. For the uninitiated the photo clean is the art of applying trowel, leaf and brush to an unsuspecting archaeological surface and getting it from its natural rather grubby state to something you could eat your dinner off. Here's the before pic for the Iron Age building overlying the chambered tomb:
And here's the 'I'm ready for my close up, make sure you get my best side' after-the-clean pic, with scales nicely positioned:
Or how about this one - a nice little Pictish building infilled with probably Viking claggy midden (rich in animal bone etc but no pottery), which has just been excavated down to a paved floor. Obviously not fit to go out in public in this state, let alone have an official site photo:
But here it is after its photo clean, looking much more presentable, after a good trowelling, a bit of drying out in the sun and a lot of brushing of stones:
A good photo clean is a bit of an arcane skill to have - probably one of the reasons it's hard to explain archaeology to non-archaeologists. Travelling back and forth on the ferry from Rousay to the Mainland you do get chatting to a lot of folk & the one of the usual questions is 'have you found any gold today?' to which the answer 'no, but I found a nice flagged floor then spent ages on my knees scraping it shiny clean with a trowel to take a photo of it' is pretty much a conversation stopper!
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