Iron Age Swartigill

Exciting find at Swartigill

A most intriguing object emerged from the earth at Swartigill, Caithness - an object that perhaps sheds some light on the function of the site.


It goes without saying that the most exciting finds of any archaeological dig are made in the final few days of activity.

And so it was on the final weekend of the dig at the Iron Age site at Swartigill, when a most intriguing object emerged from the earth…an object that perhaps sheds some light on the function of the site.

Rick Barton, Project Officer, takes up the story:

What a difference a day makes! We are now starting to define more of the structural features in the trench, which has involved the removal of substantial quantities of rubble infill and alluvium. More of the capstones from the possible drain feature in Structure A are now visible, and they are very chunky!

While we are beginning to clarify the shape of a structure in this part of the trench, elsewhere, things are becoming increasingly complex. It seems that wherever we peel back the alluvium we come straight down onto rubble or possible structural features!


Meg Sinclair examining the hone she found.

Our most interesting find of the season so far was recovered from some of the rubble layers within the south-east end of the trench. Meg Sinclair, one of our experienced volunteer archaeologists, recovered a beautifully shaped hone, a fine-grained stone used for sharpening metal objects.

This artefact tapers to one end and shows signs of wear along its edges. There is also a small dimple at its narrow end, possibly where the owner had begun to drill a hole to hang the object from their belt. This intriguing object was found in two pieces which fit together perfectly.

As we drew towards the end of this season’s excavations, we focussed on recording the archaeological features, sampling soil deposits and cleaning the site for the final photographs.

Our very own Scott Timpany, from the UHI Archaeology Institute, was also on site over the weekend with his coring equipment, investigating the peat and soils around the dig site. This will hopefully give us an insight into the environment at Swartigill during the Iron Age, and how it changed through time.

We were working on the site right until the last minute on Sunday to ensure that we maximised our time there and cover the site to protect the archaeology from the elements.

Thanks to all the volunteers who helped with the dig.

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