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Racing Against Time and Tide at the Knowe of Swandro

Results so far suggest that Swandro was a high-status settlement in the Pictish period, and this importance continued into the Viking/Norse era when it was part of the estate of Sigurd of Westness, featuring in the Orkneyinga Saga as the site of Earl Paul’s kidnapping by the notorious Viking Sveinn Ásleifarson.  


We are a Registered Scottish Charity raising money to excavate and record the site before its inevitable destruction.


Our immediate priority for our 2018 season is the rescue excavation of the chambered tomb, the entrance passageway of which was uncovered during trial excavation in 2017. The burial chamber is currently undisturbed by the sea and is likely to hold Neolithic burials, but the outer walls of the tomb are being steadily eroded and limited time remains before the chamber itself is destroyed. The Knowe of Swandro represents an important opportunity to totally excavate a Neolithic chambered tomb using modern scientific techniques, a first for Orkney.  Once the tomb has been excavated attention can focus on the Iron Age, Pictish and Viking/Norse buildings. Doing nothing is not an option - much of this important site has already been irrevocably destroyed by the sea and the rest will follow in the not-too-distant future.

The Knowe of Swandro, in the Orkney island of Rousay, is being destroyed by coastal erosion. This unique archaeological site includes a 5,000-year-old Neolithic chambered tomb, the concentric outer walls of which survive underneath the storm beach, Iron Age roundhouses, Pictish buildings, a Viking settlement and a Norse Long Hall.

The concentric walls of the chambered tomb surviving on the shore at the Knowe of Swandro.

The concentric walls of the chambered tomb surviving on the shore at the Knowe of Swandro. Taken looking south east with Eynhallow Sound on the right and Mainland Orkney in the background.