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Swandro Dig Diary: Racing Against Time and Tide

By Team Swandro, Jul 4 2017 08:58PM

First off - Happy 4th of July to all our American diggers – I’d like to say we gave them all the day off with lots of cake and hot dogs, but I’d be lying: we sent them down to the storm beach at Swandro and made them all slave away in the boiling hot sun all day, shifting tons & tons of stone. It’s the thought that counts though!

It has been a gloriously hot day, the kind of Orkney summer day that makes you forget all about the Atlantic gales that come hammering in with unfailing regularity, and the enthusiastic team has been making good progress in uncovering the site.

Work has also concentrated on uncovering the protective membrane over the edge of the chambered tomb and the passage way: unfortunately as we started to uncover this we’ve made a sad discovery

By Team Swandro, Jul 3 2017 07:51PM

Our first day back on site started out a little breezy with occasional sudden downpours, then ended hot and sunny. In other words typical Orkney weather which is usually described as four seasons in a day: you can start the day in full waterproofs, woolly hat and gloves and end the day getting sunburnt.

This is the first taste of archaeology for many of our American and Bradford students, and they couldn’t have a better place to do it than in Orkney!

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!

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