Final Week Starts at Swartigill Dig

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The site in it’s landscape

Rick Barton, Project Officer for Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) writes about the latest developments at Swartigill….

We are into the last week of the excavations at the Burn of Swartigill in Caithness, and we have achieved all our key objectives for this season.

We now know that the structures that were originally seen in the erosion of the burn edge pre-date the construction of the passage structure. The deposits overlaying the walls of these earlier structure have been cut into to accommodate the northern revetment wall of the passage. This is important chronological information about the development of the buildings, and ties in with our understanding of the chronology of the site from the C14 dates.

We have also, mostly, defined the extent of the main structure in the trench, which appears to be a sub-oval shape, rather than round or rectangular, with an entrance on the east side. This slightly squashed aspect could be due to the fact that this structure is respecting existing features and buildings around it, using the space that’s available.

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Aerial shot of the trench. Photo: Bobby Friel

The passageway on the north side of the main structure follows the curving alignment of the wall around to the east, and seems to be dropping down in elevation as it goes. Did I hear someone say Souterrain? Well, it’s a possibility, but there is still work to be done here to fully define this feature, as it continues out of our current excavation area to the east.

There are tantalising glimpses of some well-preserved patches of occupation deposits within the main structure. Protected and preserved under a layer of peaty soil, bright red areas of ashy deposit and very compacted surfaces with lots of charcoal are beginning to show through. We will be taking some samples from small amounts of these deposits this year, to further examine their potential in post-excavation. We will hopefully get some datable material from them too.

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A view of the sunken passage on the north side of the trench

This year we extended the trench to the south to investigate a second geophysical anomaly on the earth resistance survey, and it’s looking more and more likely that we have second large structure on the site. We have seen some interesting upright set stone in this area, which look like they have been incorporated into an interior wall face. We are also starting to see a curving alignment of rubble to the south of this, which could be overlaying a structural wall in this direction.

Thanks to the P7-9 classes from Watten and Thrumster primary schools for their hard work helping to uncover this tantalising addition to the site on Monday.

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The beautiful polished shale bangle from the sub-oval house

We have only a few days left of this season, Friday the 7th is our last day on site. There is still plenty to do, so if you would like to get involved, come along and see us.

3 thoughts on “Final Week Starts at Swartigill Dig

  1. Carrie Carpenter September 5, 2018 / 9:40 am

    Can you recommend any articles or texts that would introduce me to Archeological geophysics? I’m ancient…working in geophysics on USGS research ships in the late 1970’s. I recently completed a certificate in Museum Studies at University of Washington. My project was working with 2700 year stone tools,& points discovered on the San Juan Islands in the Puget Sound area of Washington state. I had hoped to visit some of your sites this summer,but have been confined by a nasty broken ankle, many thanks. Carrie

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    • seanlisle1 September 6, 2018 / 12:21 am

      Hi Carrie, thanks for your message. I will ask our geophysics team and get back to you if that is OK. Regards Sean Page

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    • seanlisle1 September 10, 2018 / 2:10 am

      Hi Carrie, I’d recommend this as a good starting text which introduces the history and techniques of archaeological geophysics.

      https://wordery.com/revealing-the-buried-past-john-gater-9780752425566

      We use it as a core text on the survey and geophysics Post Graduate module, and it has plenty of recommended reading that would help with developing things further.

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