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Swandro Dig Diary: Racing Against Time and Tide

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

By Team Swandro, Dec 24 2016 11:56AM

We’ve been spoilt with good weather here in Orkney these last few months: unseasonably warm, and hardly windy at all. That changed – since winter officially started on the 21st December normal service has been resumed – horizontal hailstones, storm force winds, power cuts etc. The Met Office have taken to naming storms to try & get folk to take them seriously – by that I mean folk south, we already know how to take weather seriously!

So we’ve just had Storm Barbara & on the 26th December we’re getting Storm Connor, and in between we’ve just got a bit of a gale that they’ve not bothered to name.

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