Archaeology Swartigill Dig Diary

Swartigill Day One


Sunday 23rd April dawned with an early ferry crossing as the team from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute bounced over the Pentland Firth en-route to Caithness and the Swartigill archaeological excavation.

The crossing itself was followed by a short overland trip through Wick to a section of road which seemed to be surrounded by bog, heather, a small forest of pine trees and little else. Martin Carruthers, Site Director, pointed over a small hill to the site and suggested that I clothe myself from head to foot in wet weather gear…despite the fact it wasn’t raining.

The reason for this soon hit me as a trudged through long grass interspersed with the occasional stretches of bog in which my boots momentarily and rather alarmingly disappeared for a few moments. After about five minutes we were looking down into a shallow valley of Swartigill Burn.


Within a few more minutes the equipment was unloaded from our backs and we were joined by an excavator. There was no trace of last year’s test pits, but with the help of GPS and under the expert direction of Rick Barton (Project Officer), the machine soon cleared the top soil for our new extended trench. This paved the way for the rest of the team, including local volunteers, to start working.


Within a few hours, a linear stone feature emerged from the soil together with a fragment of Iron Age degraded ceramic pottery. The latter was discovered by one of the volunteers who was more than pleased with her find.


The work carried on relentlessly as the wind increasingly buffeted the team. Jammy doughnuts and sandwiches provided by Yarrows Heritage Trust gave us extra energy to address the feature located in the test pit during 2015 – a possible drain feature. The capping stone was removed in 2015 to reveal this enigmatic tunnel which seemed to extend to the watercourse.

This feature will be the focus of our work over the next week.

Sean Page

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The Swartigill excavation is a joint community venture between the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute and Yarrows Heritage Trust.