Iron Age Neolithic Rousay Swandro

Roman coin found at Swandro excavation site

The race against the tide at the Swandro excavation on the island of Rousay, Orkney is gathering pace this week and the teams efforts have been rewarded by some quite amazing finds.
The Roundhouse Swandro
The small roundhouse from Swandro where the coin was found.

The race against the tide at the Swandro excavation on the island of Rousay, Orkney is gathering pace this week and the teams efforts have been rewarded by some quite amazing finds.

The sea has battered the Swandro site, in Rousay, over the winter and the lower, seaward, parts of the site have sustained more damage. This can be seen in the stones forming the lower course of the chambered cairn, which have been smoothed and the material retained by them sucked out by the force of the sea.

Despite this, the archaeology further up the sea cut terraces have survived better, although there are still some signs of physical damage.

The buildings here have provided some exciting results – in particular a copper alloy Roman coin from a circular structure forming what appears to be a small roundhouse.

Dr Steve Dockrill is, along with Dr Julie Bond, a co-director of the project.

He explained: “The bust on the coin is clearly visible although much of the lettering isn’t, at present, clear. The reverse contains a standing figure, possibly representing the emperor with what might be an image of Victory at the side. This type of coin is similar to issues dating to the mid 4th Century AD.”

Roman Coin Swandro
The probable 4th Century coin ‘as found’. Specialist conservation may provide greater detail

Further excitement occurred in a later Pictish building where the excavation of a cellular building contained evidence for both ironworking and copper alloy casting. The excavation team has been aided by the UK’s leading archaeometallurgist, Dr Gerry McDonnell, who has expertise in examining debris from archaeological metalworking residues.

Steve added: “Gerry has examined much of the material from Orkney and Shetland over the years and has been extremely excited by the findings from last year and the work that he has carried out on the floor layers this last week.”

The most recent piece of evidence is a fired clay tuyere – the clay used to hold the bellows in the furnace.

Dr Gerry McDonnell and Rose
Dr Gerry McDonnell explains the working of the fired clay tuyere to Swandro’s finds assistant Rose.

The Swandro – Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust is a SCIO (Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation, registered number: SC047702) set up by the excavation team and supporters of the Swandro excavation and environs,  and is managed by a board of unpaid charity trustees.

The Trust aims to respond to the finite resource of Orkney’s coastal heritage that is being destroyed by the sea. Due to global warming, the effects of climate change and melting polar ice is promoting higher sea levels and changing weather systems, which is exacerbating an existing problem. The coastline of Westness on the Island of Rousay has a particular series of vulnerable sites.  The Knowe of Swandro, Rousay forms the immediate focus for the Trust due to the  a devastating effect of coastal erosion on the archaeology at the Knowe of Swandro.

Our charitable aims are to advance education, heritage and culture for people of all ages, backgrounds and levels of capability from anywhere in the world through the pursuit of archaeological activities, in the widest possible ways, at Swandro and its environs by:

  • encouraging and providing opportunities to learn about the heritage and archaeology of Swandro and its environs;
  • encouraging and providing opportunities to become involved in archaeological activities at Swandro and its environs;
  • offering a range of activities, including without limitation: public lectures; exhibitions; tours; visits; summer schools and work experience opportunities and public participation, in a volunteer capacity, in the widest possible range of archaeological techniques and tasks, all in pursuit of the widest possible understanding of, interest in and development of the archaeological work at Swandro and its environs;
  • facilitating the publication of the results of and the maintenance of the records of archaeological activities carried out in relation to Swandro and its environs;
  • facilitating the promotion of the preservation of and public display of the collections of archaeological artefacts and ecofacts, obtained from Swandro and its environs;
  • working with other organisations and individuals, including schools and universities, to further the aims of the organisation;
  • serving Swandro and its environs by an active involvement in its future excavation and presentation.

See the website for more details.


  1. The reverse of the coin appears to show the emperor standing on the prow of a ship holding a figure of victory in his hand with a further figure kneeling at his heels the legend probably says FEL TEMP REPARTIO a common reverse of the Constantine house and later in the Valentina reign
    A size and weight would help with identification

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