Dig Diary Saturday 8th July 2017

As today’s a Saturday the diggers have a day off so technically this isn’t actually a dig diary – I thought we could have a bit of a change and have a dog diary instead.

You do get dog bones in Orcadian Neolithic contexts, most notably the 24 dog skulls inserted into the chamber at Cuween tomb, just outside Finstown: these have been radiocarbon dated to c.2620—2345 cal BC


Interior of Cuween chambered tomb - a Maeshowe type tomb

Whether this is a case of pet dogs buried with care and attention after a long & happy life or of dogs sacrificed as a funeral offering, or even as roast dog served at the funeral feast is a matter of debate. The best thing though about the dog bones at Cuween is the illustration of the dog on the interpretation board outside the tomb: it’s of an Airedale terrier in full Crufts show clip, alongside the caption ‘a Neolithic dog’ .. you can just picture the conversation:


‘The board needs a picture of a Neolithic dog on it’


What’s a Neolithic dog look like?’


‘I dunno – use your imagination’


We've not found any dog bones yet at Swandro (at least I don’t think so, I’m sure Steve will put me right on this) but we have had some cat bones from one of the Iron Age levels. Cats seem to have had a bit of a mixed fate in Iron Age Orkney: you get cat graves, where it looks like the deceased moggy was buried with some care, obviously a family pet, but you also get cat bones with marks of skinning on them, equally obviously not a pet but the makings of a cat skin muff or similar.

We don’t even have a site dog at Swandro – although the Ness of Brodgar do have an official site dog in the form of Bryn the border collie, who belongs to Nick Card the director. He (the dog, not Nick!) is the most seriously well-behaved dog you’re ever likely to meet; Team Swandro has a selection of dogs belonging to your humble blogger, but unfortunately they’re probably the worst behaved pack you’re ever likely to meet, led by Bran the Lurcher, although you wouldn’t know it from his puppy pics:


Being a lurcher he has a habit of disappearing into the distance in hot pursuit of anything that moves, hares in particular – we’ll gloss over his little escapade at a year old involving several barbed wire fences and a hefty vet’s bill.

However (and before I’m inundated with outraged emails about hare coursing and quite possibly a visit from a large member of HM Constabulary, hunting with dogs being illegal in Scotland) I need to make it clear he is an unusual lurcher, in that he’s perfectly capable of catching a hare, but when he does he gives it a quick nuzzle and a lick, then stands well back to let it run again – thrill of the chase, but not the kill. I tell you we have some seriously confused hares around our way!

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Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust 

Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation No: SC047002 

Patron: His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay

Registered office: Bayview Birsay Orkney KW17 2LR   email: info@swandro.co.uk