Dig diary Tuesday 17th July: scones & jam plus some pretty good archaeology

The day started well - picked up from the boat to the good news - there would be scones & jam at tea break courtesy of Trish the postlady. Gerry our archaeometallurgist had been out excavating Trish's old (historic rather than archaeological) smithy in advance of renovation of the building and in the process clearing most of it out of the way, Trish was so happy with all the work that she got up early this morning and baked a huge batch and sent them along to site complete with a tub of strawberry jam - delicious!



Gerry is increasingly excited by the results from our smithy and he's now wondering if one possible explanation of the copper/zinc alloying that's happening in our Pictish smithy may in fact be a Viking period re-use of a Pictish building. The smithy itself is definitely Pictish, from the shape and typically Pictish construction techniques, but, as mentioned in previous dig diaries, the alloying of copper with zinc is a Viking period technique, when zinc is available from the Near East.


Now very little is known about the Pictish/Viking transition in Orkney, or even the precise date that it happened but it seems clear that the Vikings took over pretty comprehensively, and it is very likely that they occupied buildings that were here already, rather than build from scratch, at least in the initial phases of settlement. It may be therefore that the Viking smith simply took over a pre-existing Pictish smithy. In either case our smith was a specialist in casting in copper alloy and that's extremely unusual - our smithy is the only one known of its type outside the major urban areas of the time. We need radiocarbon dates to sort all this out for certain, so watch this space!


Elsewhere on site the rubble, collapsed walls, collapsed roofs, and collapsed flooring over the chambered tomb is increasingly complicated. There's a huge stone slab that looks very like a lintel from the chambered tomb's passageway, but whether it's been reused in a wall or reused as a lintel for another building is a moot point. It's also worked at one end, with a rounded section cut out - you can see it in the foreground of this photo:


Huge lintel probably from the chambered tomb passageway

Whether that was done for its original use or was part of its re-use isn't clear - but it's a worked stone, so that means small finding it - don't know if Rose our finds supremo has a bag big enough to get it in though! We did have a nice little find right at the end of the day - a bone pin, and this one will fit in a bag:


This cam from the later, possibly Iron Age, levels above the tomb, but of course Vikings did bone pins very well too, so it might be later. Our re-enactors have a suitably large collection of bone pins so it was good to see the real thing coming out too.


Selection of bone items including pins from our re-enactors collections

Finally apologies for the late appearance of this dig diary - the spirit is willing but the internet connection is not - have only just manged to get online - grrrh!


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Swandro - Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust 

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