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2023 Knowe of Swandro Excavation

Archaeological work at the multiperiod settlement site of Swandro, on the island of Rousay in 2023 consisted of a detailed survey of the Westness longhouse and the continuation of the excavation of the large monumental roundhouse forming the focus of the Iron Age settlement.

Below: Overhead photo of main excavation trench showing entrance passageway to Iron Age roundhouse on left, with roundhouse subdivisions and hearths.


Survey work on the Westness longhouse included the recording of exposed stonework and earthworks as both contour and hachure surveys. The site was originally excavated by Callander in the 1940’s and later by Sigrid Kaland in the 1970’s (Proc Soc Antiq Scot LXXXI 1949 190, Kaland 1973, 1993) but unfortunately neither of these excavations has been published and there is no detailed plan. As it is now obvious that the Norse longhouse (or houses) are the latest phase of the Swandro settlement it was felt that a plan was essential to tie this structure into the wider archaeological context.

A trench was excavated in the field behind the Swandro settlement and in line with the longhouse, outside the scheduled area. This revealed a paved surface and some midden material in alignment with the longhouse. It is hoped that some dating material may be recovered from the animal bone associated with these deposits.

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Iron Age steatite (soapstone) cup after cleaning and conservation

Excavation of the interior of the large Iron Age roundhouse concentrated on the central area which was less affected by destruction and erosion of the deposits by the sea. The lower levels of the rubble in the roundhouse investigated in 2022 suggested major structural collapse in a single event. The lowest levels of this rubble were excavated in 2023, revealing floor surfaces. Three distinct rooms survived around the circumference of the interior. The seaward room (adjacent to the eroded portion) contained an iron smelting furnace. This was excavated and archaeomagnetic samples were taken along with samples of slag. This furnace together with the adjacent area may be Late Iron Age (Pictish) in date although the fact it was later paved over suggests it is not the latest phase of activity in the roundhouse. This room led into another room which contained a rectangular hearth and intact floors. Either side of the hearth were two whale vertebrae set into pits in the floor. These vertebrae had sockets worked into the body of the vertebra and seem to have acted as the bases for two uprights for a spit or bar above the fire to support a suspended cauldron or other feature (shown below under excavation).


Excavation of the floor in Structure 5, the north eastern (inland) room, first investigated in 2022, continued this season. Under this floor an earlier flagged floor was discovered together with original entrance to the room from a central passageway leading from the roundhouse entrance. The entrance consisted of a threshold stone with an in situ pivot stone. The floors were fully sampled and a large hearth butting the interior circumference wall of the roundhouse was also sampled for archaeomagnetic dating.


In 2012 and 2013, excavation of the eroded beach deposits (Area D) revealed two stone walls with a distinct rubble infill. Investigation of Structure 3 in 2017 and 2018 indicated that this structure had been cut into the earlier features. The excavation of the stone infill surviving under the floor of Structure 3 strongly indicated that the wall was actually a ditch revetment. The beach area was re-examined in 2023 in order to test this hypothesis and to obtain dating material if possible. Excavation indicated that this feature formed a revetted ditch similar to that surviving at Midhowe Broch, further along the Westness coast.

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Whalebone socket after careful excavation

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