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2013 Knowe of Swandro Excavation

The 2013 season at the Knowe of Swandro took place from the 23rd of June to the 19th of July. In the first season of the project, upright stones just visible among the pebbles on the beach below the eroding site were investigated and proved to be part of a series of structures and features surviving beneath the storm beach. Subsequent investigation of this area has completely changed our understanding of this enigmatic mound.

Initial clearance of the overlying beach material revealed the remains of what appeared to be an Iron Age structure. This was confirmed by an AMS radiocarbon date of 25BC – AD130 at 95% confidence for carbonised barley from a midden that sealed flagging in one of the compartments. Work in 2012 enabled the nature of the erosion to be more fully understood, indicating significant archaeological survival and potential. It can now be seen that the sea has created terraces or steps within the archaeological mound, with each of these eroded scars being covered by redeposited beach material.


In 2011 on the NW side of the cleared surface, the remains of a substantial and well-built outer wall forming the arc of a large circular building were revealed.Further clearance of the beach material in 2012 showed that there was a series of three substantial concentric outward facing walls, and the structure appears to be a Neolithic chambered cairn, surrounded by later settlement.


Work in 2013 concentrated on the continuation of the site to the SE of the mound, extending towards the Norse house site known as Westness. Investigation this year has demonstrated a Late Iron Age and Pictish phase of Swandro, indicated by cellular structures contained by the infilled remains of more substantial Iron Age structures. Material recovered from these structures included fragments of glass and copper alloy, hammer scale, slag, vitrified material and a small copper alloy projecting-headed pin. It can now be seen that the truncated remains of the Norse hall of Westness clearly overlie the Swandro Late Iron Age settlement.

On the beach close to the chambered cairn, the truncated remains of the earliest Iron Age building (Structure 1) were further investigated and found to contain an orthostat and stone construction interpreted as an oven. This feature has a close parallel with the 1st century BC oven excavated by the site directors in Structure 8 at Old Scatness, Shetland.

The probable Iron Age oven found at Swandro, Orkney

The probable Iron Age oven excavated at Swandro

Excavation of the shoreward part of the Swandro mound continued in 2013 and indicated that stone from the upper parts of the Neolithic chambered cairn had been robbed in antiquity. Excavation identified shillet and midden deposits in this area of disturbance, though the date of this activity has not yet been established.

Read the 2014 excavation summary

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