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2011 Knowe of Swandro Excavation

A team from the University of Bradford, Orkney College (UHI) and City University New York cleaned, recorded and sampled the site at Swandro, 22 June–27 July 2011, as part of the ‘Orkney Gateway to the Atlantic Project’.  

Work on the Knowe of Swandro this year again concentrated on two areas, the mound itself (Area B) and the eroding beach deposits (Area A). An area 4 x 10m was deturfed on the mound and features defined. The structural elements noted in the 2010 season were investigated and appear to be the remains of a substantial double-faced curving wall. A small area of paving close to the beach section appears to be later in date.

On the storm beach, the cleared area was extended to 4 x 10m, to assess the extent of the remaining deposits. Midden and other features were found to extend to the high tide mark and further test pitting at low tide revealed that anthropogenic deposits stretched under the storm beach and sand deposits to the low tide line. A sondage in the E corner of the excavated area showed a complex series of stony midden deposits to a depth of >1.5m below the eroded surface; at this depth, a freshwater spring made excavation difficult, but the sondage demonstrates the depth of midden deposits under the eroding beach. Finds from these middens include a worked bone pin, pottery and well-preserved bone.

Test pits on the beach below the high water mark at the Knowe of Swandro, Orkney

Test pits on the beach below the high water mark


The remains of a prehistoric structure, first investigated last year, were further excavated and samples taken for environmental evidence and radiocarbon dating. A single radiocarbon date indicated a date in the 1st to 2nd century AD. Archaeomagnetic dates obtained from an earlier hearth indicate use in the 4th to 2nd centuries BC. 


Clearance of large beach boulders on the W edge of Area A revealed large dressed stones, much battered by the storm beach, forming a substantial wall which could be shown to be the continuation of the large curving wall seen in Area B.  Stratigraphically above the structure excavated last year, and physically further up the beach, a paved area, a fragment of hearth surround and a series of cells formed from orthostats indicated the presence of a later structure. The evidence suggests that Swandro is a multi-period settlement.


This year's excavations have demonstrated that the deposits at Swandro are much deeper than initially suspected and the extent of the site much greater. Marine erosion has proceeded in a stepped fashion, so that the earliest deposits survive in greatest extent below the storm beach, whilst the later deposits are fragmentary.

Read the 2012 excavation summary

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