Looking back to the summer on a two-towel Orkney day

Can't believe it's nearly the end of October and over three months since the end of the 2019 excavation - seems like only yesterday but we had a great season. Today's a typical wet and windy October in Orkney day aka a two-towel day here at Swandro HQ (i.e. the number of towels needed to dry the resident dog pack after their walks - we're talking full size mega bath sheets here, not the hand variety) so to cheer myself up I had a look few some of my dig photos from this year, and decided to share a few of them with you. There is also a day-by-day account of this year's dig in our daily dig diary, with much more detail and photos, so if you've missed anything (or also need cheering up after your own two-towel walk) you can settle down with a nice cup of tea and go through the season with us from start to finish. Thanks to the generosity of our supporters we had a seven week season, with a devoted advanced team on site a week early setting up, meaning everything was ready for the main team's arrival, including labelling around 1,500 small finds bags during some of the torrential downpours that have been a frequent feature of this year's weather in Orkney.  This season we concentrated on the Iron Age roundhouse - and its many rebuilds - situated over the tomb, with two extension trenches, and by the end of the excavation it was clear that the sequence of builds/rebuilds/collapse was very much more complicated than we'd hoped, as this very fine aerial photo by Lindsey Kemp shows:

This year's trench extension in the top left of the photo above made it possible to get the full arc of the roundhouse wall, but there are numerous rebuilds and reskinning of the walls to complicate matters. Reskinning is a common technique in this period, seen at lots of other sites - often used when the original wall of a building is starting to collapse, they just step in a bit and build another wall inside the first, reducing the internal diameter of the building but hopefully stopping it falling down. The main roundhouse - built over our chambered tomb - started out as a very large thick walled building, which seems - from our initial ground penetrating radar results, courtesy of Dr Chris Gaffney from the University of Bradford -  to have been surrounded by a ditch with a stone revettment. This roundhouse was later subdivided by orthostats - large upright stones which can be seen at the top of the picture above, and below in close up:  

On the outside of the roundhouse the corbelled cell we discovered last year was fully excavated, then laser scanned for posterity. This photo is taken looking towards the entrance which was blocked by a massive stone: 

Among the small finds this year we've had quite a few that merit special mention, such as this Iron Age weaving comb, missing a few teeth but otherwise perfect:

One of the smaller finds but my personal favourite is this sweet little pendant made from a seal's tooth, shown here all cleaned up and looking its best:

It didn't look quite as pretty when first found, as it came from some of the earlier Iron age deposits low down on the site and very soggy, but the find made Chloe's day as you can see:

Our strangest find of the season was a mystery object made out of antler, and we're still puzzled as to what it is:

There's been various suggestions, but we  wondered if perhaps it's a series of unfinished spindle whorls, the shapes roughed out preparatory to being cut through at the grooves. Don't know why it was never finished though, as it's not been obviously broken in manufacture. Incidentally the photo above caused a bit of controversy when I posted it to Facebook - there were a lot of comments about how that couldn't be an archaeologist's hand as the nails were too long - the hand in question belongs to Jackie McKinley who is most definitely an archaeologist, here in action in her corbelled cell where she spent the whole of her time with us, on her holidays for her day job as Principal Osteoarchaeologist for Wessex Archaeology:

All in all it was a great season, ending as usual with five days of backbreaking work filling everything in again to try and protect it over the winter, and inevitably it rained on the last afternoon, so we were both wet and sad to be leaving:

And of course there's the little matter of all the environmental samples, which came back to Swandro HQ in Birsay to be processed over the winter, haven't dared to count them but there's lots:

Having just looked at the date I realise that there's just 8 months to go until we'll hopefully be back on site - providing of course that we can raise the money. Donations to the excavation fund are always very welcome!

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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