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What’s in a name? A storm by any other name would hit as hard!

We’ve been spoilt with good weather here in Orkney these last few months: unseasonably warm, and hardly windy at all. That changed – since winter officially started on the 21st December normal service has been resumed – horizontal hailstones, storm force winds, power cuts etc. The Met Office have taken to naming storms to try & get folk to take them seriously – by that I mean folk south, we already know how to take weather seriously!

Great wave of Kanagawa

So we’ve just had Storm Barbara & on the 26th December we’re getting Storm Connor, and in between we’ve just got a bit of a gale that they’ve not bothered to name.

If you’re wondering what this has to do with archaeology the answer is simple - we’ve got so much coastal archaeology at risk in Orkney that it doesn’t matter which direction the storm comes from it’s going to destroy something. At Swandro we’re particularly worried about west – south west storms which run straight up the sound & hammer the storm beach – both Storm Barbara & Storm Connor are predominately westerly/south westerly. The pic below shows the site at high tide – racing against time & tide indeed!

High tide at the Knowe of Swandro showing damage to the chambered tomb
High tide at the chambered tomb

As explained in the interim site report:

Two agencies appear to be responsible for the destruction of this site; the first is the day to day tidal range responsible for the constant movement of materials in the inter-tidal zone. Tidal action may be responsible for the scouring-out of softer deposits from some features, the erosion of the edges of structural stones and the forcing of small pebbles into cracks in the structural stones which eventually leads to splitting of the orthostats.

The second and more aggressive erosion is periodic and due to high-energy storm events. Although not constant, these events are extremely aggressive with the sea capable of cutting into the cliff and upper terraces and able to remove with ease structural remains (walls, paving and orthostatic features). From the pattern of the stones of the boulder beach, their size and deposition, it seems likely that the main force of these events comes from the west and that the solid bulk of the supposed Neolithic cairn has to a small extent protected the later deposits to the east of it. This does mean that in the better survival towards the cliff and on the landward side there is clear evidence that earlier walling (the suspected Neolithic chambered cairn and middle Iron Age buildings) has the potential to survive to a reasonable height, perhaps between 1 and 2 metres.



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