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Dig diary Wednesday 12th July 2017

Another scorching hot day in Rousay and a day of great excitement. Firstly the entrance passageway to the chambered tomb is cleaning up a treat, this photo’s taken looking down the passageway from the top of the inside of the tomb. The bones you can see at the end of the passage are sheep bones (not human!) from the Late Iron Age or Viking levels.

Animal bones in the upper fills of the chambered tomb passageway at Swandro
Looking down the passageway of the tomb from the inside looking out, sheep bones clearly visible

Sheep bones are all very well but not terribly exciting unless you happen to be an archaeozoologist – I mean one dead sheep’s much the same as the next to me, whether it’s a thousand years old or last night’s chops, however we’ve had a really AMAZING find today - a Roman coin! It’s made of copper alloy and came from a securely stratified context in Structure 2, our little roundhouse, we’ve had other finds from there dating to about the 2nd the 4th centuries AD. Here’s the front:

Front of the Roman coin at Swandro

The emperor’s got a very distinctive profile – we don’t know who it is yet, but someone will, being in the field we’re a bit short on reference works on Roman coins, so if you’re reading this & know who it is do get in touch.

Now as you might know, Orkney was never part of the Roman empire. OK so the classical authors knew we were here: Orkney is first mentioned in classical sources c. AD40 by Pomponius Mela, who said that ‘there are 30 Orcades, separated from one another by narrow spaces’. This was apparently (and allegedly!) swiftly followed by the Roman conquest of Orkney, credited by Tacitus to Agricola c. AD 78 – 84, and by Eutropius to Claudius c. AD40.

We do get some very nice high status Roman finds in Iron Age contexts – mostly to do with drinking, funnily enough: there’s a nice little glass cup from Westray that was found in a Viking grave in the 18th century and amazingly survived and is now in the National Museum, and a few other cups of similar sort. There’s also an amphora from the Broch of Gurness, that was the type they used to put a really strong liqueur in.

We don’t think the Romans got here but obviously their high-status trade goods did: every amphora of wine comes with a FREE set of six matching glasses, buy two amphora and we’ll throw in a set of coasters, be the envy of all your neighbours, no need to drink that home-brewed barley ale, nothing like the fruit of the vine to keep out the winter’s chill......I bet togas never caught on though, can't imagine a toga in a Force 10 gale!

Anyway I digress... here’s the back of our little coin, we’re fairly sure this is Hercules, but again you might know better:

Reverse side of the Roman coin from Swandro, Orkney

Better than some scuzzy old sheep bone any day if you ask me...


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