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Dig diary Wednesday 26th July 2017

We’re getting towards the end of the dig now and it’s all hands on deck for final recording, drawing, photographing and checking all is well before we leave site for the year - we really really hope these buildings will still be here next year and survive another winter's gales. All our beautiful buildings have been cleaned up to within an inch of their lives so that they’ll be ready for their close ups - if the sea destroys them over the winter at least we'll have something to remember them by. This is only the tip of the iceberg - there's a huge amount of site inland of the building - you can see stones on the right sticking out of the trench edge, that's a continuation and the sea is just nipping away at it more and more.

Here’s the Pictish Smithy in all its glory, taken looking towards the entrance - the red and white poles are photographic scales & they’re 1 metre long:

Pictish smithy at Swandro, Orkney

The metal working debris inside the smithy has got Gerry our metals expert really excited. There’s some very interesting stuff left on the floor of the smithy. If you’ve been reading this diary since the beginning you may remember that we’ve got two types of debris– one is hammerscale, which is the flakes that come off when you whack the metal you’re working very hard, and the other is these little roundy bits that fly off when you’re working with molten metal. Taken together this means that they were forging metal and were quite probably making knives and other sharp pointy objects - possibly they’d heard the Vikings were calling past Rousay on their way to raid Lindisfarne?

Vikings calling past Swandro

Sorry couldn’t resist that – there’s nothing like a leather-clad hunk on a rainy day to put a spring in your step, that’s what I say...wonder if we could get that lot to come to our open day next year? I mean peaceful Vikings playing hnefatafl as a break from whittling whalebone is all very well, but not a patch on a Viking longboat landing & a charge up the beach especially if there’s leather & a few six packs on show...

Anyway I digress - returning to the archaeology, a view of the smithy from the entrance looking back towards the south east. The broken flags in the centre with the small black & white pole on them are a hearth, it shows up better in the next shot from above:

Overhead view of the smithy at Swandro

The flags with the upside down ‘T’ scale is where the fire was laid, the broken off stub of stone to the right of the flag is what’s left of the back slab for the hearth, a large orthostat originally but broken off (orthostat’s an archaeological term from the Greek orthostatēs: orthos ‘right or straight’ + statos ‘standing’ – presumably originally coined because ‘upright stone’ doesn’t sound academic enough & everyone knows what it means. Bit like megalithic – what exactly is wrong with ‘big stone’? ).

The back slab is quite sensibly positioned to shelter the fire from the draft that would come in through the door, and it’s a style that carried on in Orkney into the 18th century and was still used in the 1960s at Kirbuster Farm (now a museum & well worth a visit):

Kirbuster Farm fireback


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