Back in Rousay to beat the elements

swandro

A team of archaeologists from Orkney College UHI and the University of Bradford are back in Rousay to continue investigating an eroding settlement mound at Swandro.

The settlement was discovered by Dr Julie Bond in 2010.

She spotted a few “odd stones” just visible among the pebbles on the beach, below the badly eroding mound.

Since then, excavation is now completely changing our understanding of this enigmatic site.

Excavators hard at work at the Bay of Swandro, with the water at their back. (Steve Dockrill)

Excavators hard at work at the Bay of Swandro, with the water at their back.
(Steve Dockrill)

The tops of stones partly buried by the boulder beach turned out to be set uprights, forming part of a prehistoric building under the boulder beach, around the high tide mark.

Although the tops of the stones are worn, and battered by the sea, the beach has partly protected the deposits, and animal bone and pottery were recovered — the finds suggesting an Iron Age context.

Initial clearance of the overlying beach material revealed a building in the shape of a flattened oval with a curved side and straight element on the landward side.

Dr Bond explained: “The seaward side has been savaged by the sea, which has removed half, or more, of the structure.

“This has resulted in the Iron Age sequence having been terraced by the sea into a series of levels or steps. You can walk up these terraced steps through time, rising from truncated material dating to the Middle Iron Age up to Late Iron Age and Norse features forming the upper erosion terrace adjacent to the wave-cut cliff.”

This year’s work will concentrate on the excavation of the infill of several buildings.

In 2011, the building had only been excavated to define several of the structures.

The apsidal north-western end of the first building found (now referred to as Structure One) — defined by upright stone settings and the internal dividing upright stones — revealed the presence of a flag floor and a stone oven set into the wall.

The Iron Age sequence has been terraced into levels, rising from truncated material appearing to date to the Middle Iron Age up to Late Iron Age. Norse period deposits are at the upper erosion terrace, adjacent to the wave-cut cliff.

To the north-west, the sea is eating into the side of what appears to be a Neolithic chambered cairn. It is this cairn which forms the mound of Swandro. This suggests that the burial chamber may still be intact.

Dr Stephen Dockrill added: “This summer’s work will investigate these archaeological remains further in order to sample the floors of both the Early and Late Iron Age structures, in order to unlock the buried evidence.”

Dr Dockrill believes that some of these buildings may still have walling surviving to a metre or more.

“The sea will destroy these buildings in the next year or so, and this is our only chance to understand the generations who lived on this site.”

The project is funded by Orkney Islands Council, Rousay, Egilsay and Wyre Development Trust, Orkney Archaeological Society, the University of Bradford, Orkney College UHI, City University of New York, and William Patterson University.

Thanks are due to the landowners, Russell and Kathryn Marwick.

To visit the excavation site, visitors should park at the Midhowe car park, walk down following the marker posts to Midhowe broch, and walk south-east along the coast.

Visitors should note that the site is closed on Fridays and Saturdays.

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