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Swandro Dig Diary: Racing Against Time and Tide


Please click here for the contents list and links to all our dig diary entries

By Team Swandro, Jan 28 2018 04:09PM

We have just received a report, kindly prepared for us by Dr Alison Sheridan of National Museums Scotland (NMS), on a very interesting find from our 2015 season, a broken roughout of a bead or pendant made from a jet-like material. It was found in the midden deposits near to the entrance of the chamber tomb in an area that lies beneath the Iron Age levels but is otherwise as yet undated, hence it could be either Neolithic or possibly Chalcolithic or Bronze Age, since there is evidence for post-Neolithic activity at a number of Neolithic chamber tombs in Orkney. To read Dr Sheridan's full report please click here.

By Team Swandro, Dec 23 2017 04:04PM

Christmas is almost upon us and In the run up to all the festive excess (hic!) it's appropriate that Neolithic feasting at Durrington Walls hit the headlines recently with the launch of a new exhibition at Stonehenge. It appears likely that our Neolithic farming ancestors had some sort of midwinter celebration, especially in Orkney: faced with filthy weather, howling gales and 6 hours 20 minutes daylight at midwinter they'd need something to get them through the darkest days the same as we do, only without all the plastic tack 'n tinsel!

There's no definitive evidence for it, but the technology to brew ale was certainly available in Neolithic Orkney – malting ovens, barley, big Grooved Ware pots – and nothing gets you through an Orkney winter better than a couple of drinks (always drink responsibly of course guys – we at Team Swandro wouldn't want to encourage riotous behaviour – we're too old for that these days!). We do have Iron Age ovens at Swandro and V Gordon Childe had Neolithic ovens at Rinyo In Rousay – more info here

By Team Swandro, Dec 4 2017 03:41PM

Didn't you always hate the thought of going back to school after the summer holidays because you knew that the first thing you'd have to do when you got back was write an essay on 'What I did in my summer holidays'? Now of course I realise that the teachers hated being back at school as much as we did & set us the standard essay to keep us quiet for a bit – anyway here's the Swandro version of that essay – enjoy!

Chambered tomb

The chambered tomb at Swandro is suffering badly from ongoing coastal erosion, with more and more of the tomb walls on the seaward side disappearing every year. This year we concentrated on the entrance passageway, located at the top of the storm beach, the upper levels of which had been disturbed probably in the Viking period, since a coin of EANRED, King of Northumbria 810-840 AD, were found there in a previous season, along with the bones of several cats (cats are an Iron Age introduction to Orkney, so can't relate to the Neolithic use of the tomb).

Work this year showed that there's another building, not part of the chambered tomb, built up against its entrance. This may possibly be a souterrain (or earthhouse as they're known in Orkney - confusingly, neither a house nor built of earth), an underground building that everyone assumes is ritual/religious. They turn up surprisingly often inserted into chambered tombs, and most of the excavated examples are Iron Age. It may however also be another type of Iron Age building - for example the chambered tomb at Quanterness, just outside Kirkwall, had an Iron Age roundhouse built across its entrance in a similar way.

By Team Swandro, Oct 20 2017 03:13PM

Welcome back for Part 2 of our occasional series on the background to the dig – this week: how to dig a chambered tomb the James Farrer way.

James Farrer (MP for South Durham) was an antiquarian very active in Orkney in the mid-19th century, which is to say he was an enthusiastic mound-howker. Nowadays of course you can't just go around hacking holes in unsuspecting mounds on a whim, but back then there was nothing to stop you, all you needed was the landowner's permission and off you went. Sadly, although Farrer was an enthusiastic excavator, this wasn't matched by an enthusiasm for publication, and we have no idea of the final total of mounds he opened without record.

By Team Swandro, Aug 19 2017 05:42PM

Since we’re not digging at the moment I thought this might be a good time to catch you all up on some of the background to the dig, so that when we come back (hopefully – subject to funding) next July you’ll all be up to speed and ready to dive right in to the regular dig diary.

If we were still on site we wouldn’t be digging today anyway as it’s a Saturday, so if it helps you can pretend we’re still digging but this is our day off – puts me in mind of seeing a Motörhead gig many years ago when they’d just had The Bomber stolen - the inimitable Lemmy announced that even if the Bomber hadn’t been stolen they wouldn’t have been able to get it in as the hall as was too small, so we should just imagine that it was parked up on the lorry outside:

You may need to work with me on this one!

Anyway back to the archaeology – as regular readers will know one of the most threatened parts of the site is our Neolithic chambered tomb

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