Creating Contexts: Between the Archaeological Site and Art Gallery

  • Antonia ThomasEmail author
Part of the One World Archaeology book series (WORLDARCH, volume 11)


“This paper reflects upon the Test Trenches Project, which involved arts practitioners in a range of media collaborating with archaeologists on the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. The team, including the archaeologists, subsequently undertook a short studio residency at the Pier Arts Centre, a contemporary art gallery in Stromness, and collaborated on creating installations in a range of media. Rather than aiming specifically to create finished works for display, visual experimentation was explored as a meaningful process in itself. Nevertheless, the project was able to provide subtle and unexpected contextual insights into the archaeological material”.


Art Archaeology Excavation Gallery Exhibition Interpretation 



The Test Trenches team was Claire Pençak (Tabula Rasa Dance Company), Brian Hartley (, Bill Thompson (, Glenda Rome, Dan Lee and Antonia Thomas. Many thanks to Nick Card, ORCA Senior Projects Manager and Director of the excavations at the Ness of Brodgar, for allowing access to the archive and decorated stones from the site. Particular thanks to Andrew Parkinson (Curator) and the staff at the Pier Arts Centre, Stromness for their assistance during the project, workshop and exhibition, and for many interesting conversations about the relationship between art and archaeology. An earlier draft of this chapter was presented at the Assembling Archaeology conference at the University of Sheffield in September 2011 and I am grateful to the conference’s organisers, Bill Bevan and Bob Johnston, for the invitation to attend and to the other attendees for debate and discussions during the day. This chapter has benefitted from comments on draft text by Nick Card, Mark Edmonds, Dan Lee, Andrew Parkinson and Claire Pençak but the ideas expressed and any shortcomings in it remain my own. Thanks especially to Dan Lee for his continuing support and inspiration and for giving me the time to work on this paper by looking after our beautiful daughter Lucie Lee, who was born in the middle of writing it. Images are individually accredited.


  1. Barrett, J. C. (1990). Art and design, 3000 BC—AD 1000. In W. Kaplan (Ed.), Scotland creates: 5000 years of art and design (pp. 15–27). London: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd.Google Scholar
  2. Bille, M., & Sorensen, T. F. (2007). An anthropology of luminosity: The agency of light. Journal of Material Culture, 12, 263–284.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bradley, R. (2009). Image and audience: Rethinking prehistoric art. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Card, N. (2010). Colour, cups and tiles—Recent discoveries at the Ness of Brodgar. PAST, 66, 1–3.Google Scholar
  5. Card, N., & Thomas, A. (2012). Painting a picture of the Neolithic: Decorated stonework from the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. In A. Cochrane, & A. M. Jones (Eds.), Visualising the Neolithic: Abstraction, figuration, performance, representation (pp. 111–124). Oxford: Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  6. Cochrane, A., & Russell, I. A. (2007). Visualizing archaeologies: A manifesto. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 12(1), 3–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Edgeworth, M. (2007). Double-artefacts: Exploring the other side of material culture. In V. O. Jorge & J. Thomas (Eds.), Overcoming the modern invention of material culture (pp. 89–96). Special issue of Journal of Iberian Archaeology vols. 9/10.Google Scholar
  8. Harrison, R. (2011). Surface assemblages: Towards an archaeology in and of the present. Archaeological Dialogues, 18(2), 141–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jones, A. M. (2006). Animated images: Images, agency and landscape in Kilmartin, Argyll, Scotland. Journal of Material Culture, 11, 211–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Jones, A. M. (2007). Memory and material culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Jones, A. M. (2012). Prehistoric materialities: Becoming material in prehistoric Britain and Ireland. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Jorge, V. O. (1998). Interpreting the “Megalithic Art” of western Iberia: Some preliminary remarks. Journal of Iberian Archaeology, 69–83.Google Scholar
  13. Lopez y Royo, A. (2006) Reconstructing and representing dance: Exploring the dance/archaeology conjunction. Metamedia at Stanford humanities lab. Accessed 30 Oct 2012.
  14. Marwick, J. G. (1926). Discovery of stone cists at Stenness, Orkney. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 60, 34–36.Google Scholar
  15. Pakes, A. (2004). Choreographing the site, excavating the dance: Rosemary Butcher and the convergence of archaeology with dance performance. TAG 2002 papers on Archaeology and Performance. Accessed 30 Oct 2012.
  16. Pearson, M. (2006). “In comes I” performance, memory and landscape. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.Google Scholar
  17. Pearson, M., & M. Shanks, M. (2001). Theatre/archaeology. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Shanks, M. (2007). Symmetrical archaeology. World Archaeology, 39(4), 589–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Thomas, A. (In prep). Monumental visions: Art and archaeology in the heart of Neolithic Orkney world heritage site.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Archaeology DepartmentOrkney College, University of the Highlands and IslandsKirkwallUK

Personalised recommendations