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Dig diary Thursday 27th July 2017 - end-of-dig roundup

Everything’s drawing to a close here now, the final recording of the chambered tomb was done before it was covered over to protect it (hopefully) through the winter. There’s something very strange going on around the tomb entrance passage – the photo below is taken looking straight down the main entrance passageway, the lintels covering it are missing so you’re looking at the exposed side walls:

Swandro's chambered tomb entrance

Now the next photo is taken at right angles looking up from the beach, with the tomb entrance at the top left of the pic:

looking up from the shore towards the tomb at Swandro

What we’ve got is another passageway into another building, built up against the wall of the tomb and across the tomb’s entrance. Some of the lintels of this building are still more or less in place – you can see one in the first photo just at the right of the shot.

Now this may be an Iron Age earth house (confusingly, neither a house nor built of earth), a weird underground building that everyone assumes is ritual/religious. They turn up surprisingly often inserted into chambered tombs, there’s a couple of nice examples you can visit in Orkney, at Rennibister and on Hatston industrial estate in Kirkwall. On the other hand it may be something to do with another Iron Age building – the chambered tomb at Quanterness had an Iron Age roundhouse plonked down across its entrance in a similar way.

It’s maybe easier to see in this close up with a couple of folk for scale: Alan on the left is standing on the left hand side wall of the later passageway, in fact the toe of his front foot is just on the edge of the side wall. Sam (Harris, who when not acting as a useful photo scale is doing his PhD on Archaeomagnetic dating in the Scottish Neolithic) is standing in the middle of the passageway to the possible earth house.

Possible earth house or souterrain at Swandro, Orkney

There also seems to be something underneath our tomb – we seem to have some random stonework that may or may not be part of the tomb – to me it looks more like it’s not related, the foundations on tombs are usually quite neat & pretty narrow – it’s the big stone just to the left of the person in this shot:

Possible Early Neolithic settlement at Swandro, Orkney

There’s also some really rubbish stonework further along to the left which looks a bit like they’ve bodged the tomb on top of an earlier building & not made a very good job of it. That wouldn’t be unheard of either – at Howe, near Stromness the chambered tomb was built over a couple of Neolithic houses.

We’ll just have to wait & see – there’s no way to make sense of it without opening up a much bigger area and until we scrape some more money together there’s no hope of that.

Today we said good bye to Lindsay Kemp – a specialist in photogrammetric recording, and Alan Braby, Scotland's foremost archaeological illustrator: both of them have used up all of their annual leave to come and volunteer for us. Here they are in action – and no it’s not what you think, they're providing shade for a close up of the hearth in the smithy:

Creating shade for photos at Swandro

Safe journey home boys and thank you for all your hard work and support.

The rest of the site is pretty much covered over now, which is hard work in itself, all the buildings are covered in a protective membrane then the storm beach is put back by hand, the buildings completely filled in just as they were before we arrived, to give the site the best chance of surviving the winter gales.

Backfilling the site at Swandro, Orkney for the winter

This is backbreaking work at the best of times, but in the driving rain it’s just miserable, but it has to be done and you can’t stop for the weather:

Backfilling in the rain

We really want to thank all the students and volunteers for all their hard work – sliding about on a storm beach is no-one’s idea of fun but they’ve worked liked heroes.


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