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Swandro Dig Diary: Racing Against Time and Tide

By Team Swandro, Mar 4 2017 04:47PM



The Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust are pleased to announce, after much deliberation, soul searching, squinting at the computer screen & fraught emails … we have a logo!!!!!



Who would’ve thought it – that makes us official, it’s a bit like having an ‘ology’ if you’ve got a logo. Everyone’s got a logo now – I blame computer graphics & photoshop myself - I’m old enough to remember the days when it was innovative for tradesmen to have their names on the sides of their vans let alone a logo, now even the milkman has one. Mind you I’m also old enough (just!) to remember the last milkman round our way who delivered with a horse & cart – fairly sure the horse didn’t have a trade name spray painted down his sides, although come to think of it spray paint probably hadn’t been invented then either.


Anyway I digress, we have a logo (and before I get howls of complaint about wasting the Trust’s hard earned cash on fripperies, let me add that the logo has been sponsored by a local business (Orkney Archaeology Tours) & so hasn’t cost us a penny). I thought the design process would be easy – I knew more-or-less what I wanted –the Great Wave of Kanagawa ...


... descending on the Knowe of Swandro and trying to sweep it into the sea. This is not hard to imagine – given how close to the shore the site is, we live in daily fear of more of it heading for the Atlantic:


Did some very basic (photoshop!!) mock ups which I thought looked fine with the fonts I’d used, thought of some colours that’d do very nicely, and toddled off to visit the graphic designer, who was pleased that I had at least some idea of what I wanted – apparently most people don’t & he spends a lot of time trying to read minds. Anyway in short order he’d emailed me a half a dozen different versions, all of which I thought were very fine, just what I wanted with the colours & fonts I’d chosen, including one I particularly liked.


At this point I thought I’d better run the designs past they-who-must-be-obeyed aka Steve & Julie the dig directors for a quick approval. (Now you may think I should’ve done this at the start & you’re probably right but hey-ho, you live & learn). Turned out I am quite behind the times in socially acceptable font styles, font sizes & word spacing, and I have no sense of style or any idea of colour co-ordination & quite probably shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any design project in the future.


On reflection mea culpa, it’s all true – have never been able to see what colours go with what, hence I only ever wear black with occasional forays into an Orkney sweater or a Scotland rugby shirt for special occasions (Scotland now ranked no. 5 in the world after satisfactorily thrashing Ireland & Wales in the Six Nations by the way - the last one a bit of a sore point in our household at the moment since my man is half Welsh – tee hee!). Anyway I digress, but the upshot of this is it was back to the designer for another 20 versions of the idea with lots of colour variations, fonts, spacings etc. before the final version was agreed upon & launched on an unsuspecting public. Hope you all like it!


On a different note, although our logo was sponsored, we are still very much in need of funds for our 2017 dig season in July, so if any of you wonderful people having read this far would see your way clear to maybe clicking the donation button below and making a small contribution to the dig fund that would be gratetfully received - thank you!






By Team Swandro, Feb 22 2017 03:11PM

Here we are in February and Orkney is in the grip of Storm Doris – a westerly gale Force 8 gusting Storm Force 10 – and I can’t help thinking once again that I don’t know who picks these names but that ‘Doris’ doesn’t really do it for me. It’s not even as if you can jazz it up: ‘Doris the Destroyer of Worlds’ just sounds silly, & anyway Storm Force 10 isn’t that bad if you’re safely on dry land, even if there was nearly a mass revolt on the dog walk front this morning with the pack trying repeatedly to head back indoors.


Just hope that no more of the site has washed away overnight, but you can’t really tell for sure what damage has been done at Swandro until the storm beach is removed at the start of the dig each year. Waves have huge energy, and they can roll the storm beach round and round, almost like a gigantic washing machine effect: it looks ok on the surface but it’s scoured away more of the archaeology underneath.


Since we’re not digging at the moment here’s a nice little treat from a previous year: a coin of EANRED who was King of Northumbria in the first half of the ninth century AD.


This was found in the very top fill of the entrance passageway to the Neolithic chambered tomb and has been discussed with the experts who are happy to see this (in the context of the Northern Isles) as a Viking Age deposit.


The Orkneyinga Saga doesn’t give you a lot of detail for the 9th century, apart from a claim that around 874AD ‘King Harald Fair-Hair sailed west to punish the vikings … for they harried in Norway during the summer, but spent the winter in Shetland or the Orkneys’. Presumably any 9th century Orkney Vikings were quite capable of harrying Northumbria with the best of them, hence our little coin of Eanred!

By Team Swandro, Feb 7 2017 06:45PM

Our ‘Volunteer in 2017’ page has recently been shared on Facebook by our colleagues at the Archaeology Institute and the Orkney Archaeology Society.


As a result we have been inundated with wonderful offers from numerous kind people willing to volunteer on the dig. Unfortunately given the short 4-week dig season and the limited funding, we now have many more volunteers than the places we have available. Thank you so much if you were one of those people, we would love to be able to take everyone but unfortunately it just isn’t going to be possible this year.


At the moment we have got all our fingers crossed as we are still waiting to hear the result of several grant applications that will (hopefully!) fund our 4 week season in July 2017.



I’m not sure how many people saw the Facebook post, but looking at the number of shares it has got to be around the 10,000 mark quite easily – if everyone who saw that post gave us a £10 donation we could fund our 2017 & 2018 seasons and get ourselves a good set of radiocarbon dates to go with it! Oh well, I can always dream… better buy another Euromillions lottery ticket instead!


But on the off chance that you’re reading this and feeling generous, and maybe have a tenner to spare, you can donate quite easily by PayPal using the link below – please share this post far and wide on social media - thank you!









By Team Swandro, Jan 15 2017 12:11PM

Hopefully everyone reading this watched last week’s episode of the 3-part BBC TV show ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital – Secrets of Orkney’, and so saw the team crossing the Pentland Firth in their hide boat – if not, read my previous blog entry, which should explain matters.


The Pentland Firth boat used melted beef fat to waterproof it, but seal oil would work just as well , as used in Alaskan for the umiauks. On a long voyage you have to reproof it, so you need to take your seal oil with you in a suitable container - can you guess what these are?


By Team Swandro, Jan 2 2017 07:21PM

As part of the 3-part BBC TV show ‘Britain’s Ancient Capital – Secrets of Orkney’, the first episode of which airs tonight, the production team had a hide boat constructed in Stromness and paddled it across the Pentland Firth in a bit of a stunt to show that it could have been done in prehistoric Orkney. This is not a new idea, in fact there are very good ethnographic examples from around the world, my favourites are the Alaskan umiaks:

These are great boats, very seaworthy and amazingly good cargo carriers


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