Archaeology Dig to start at Iron Age site in Caithness

Aerial view of the Swartigill site. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute, in partnership with the Yarrows Heritage Trust, are preparing for a fourth season of excavation at the Burn of Swartigill in Thrumster, Caithness, Scotland.

Previous seasons of excavation at the site have uncovered a complex of Iron Age structures, which are providing an important window into Iron Age society away from the monumental architecture of the Brochs.

This season the team led by Rick Barton from ORCA Archaeology hope to continue to reveal the extent of some of these structures so that they can better understand just how complex the site is. We will also be aiming to recover more information about what life was like for the Iron Age people who lived there two thousand years ago. Analysis of the precious remnants of people’s day to day lives will not only help us to understand the environment and economy of the site at the Burn of Swartigill, but also potentially that of Iron Age Scotland in a much broader context.

The landscape of the Swartigill Burn site. Photo: Bobby Friel @Takethehighview

The 2019 excavations commence on 19th of August and will continue until 8th of September. The site is located near Thrumster House, a few miles south of Wick. To get to the site, you need to take the Haster and Tannach road from Thrumster and look out for our signs just before the bridge crossing at the Burn of Swartigill. There is limited parking at the roadside, and the dig is a short hike across boggy moorland.

Tours are available and the archaeologists will be on site every day of the week between Monday 19th and Thursday 29th of August. The excavation will then continue from Tuesday 3rd of September until Sunday 8th of September 2019.

The community dig at Swartigill. Photo: UHI Archaeology Institute

Volunteers are welcome and you don’t need any archaeological experience to take part. Contact for more information or arrive on the day!

5 thoughts on “Archaeology Dig to start at Iron Age site in Caithness

  1. Brian @ SFF Chronicles Wednesday, August 14, 2019 (7:25am) / 7:25 am

    Just to ask, why do you think the glass bead found at The Cairns was Roman in origin? Simpy that I’m currently reading Prehistoric Britain by Timothy Darvill and he makes a point that craft-making along the Atlantic Coast during the Iron Age included the making glass beads, with local variations. A quick Google Search suggests regional variation is well-attested to in terms of size and colour. So what would make your own find Roman? I’d ask in the previous threads, but unfortunately comments have been quickly closed (ie,

    • seanlisle1 Wednesday, August 14, 2019 (3:11pm) / 3:11 pm

      Hi Brian, from the chemical composition of the glass mainly. Regaards Sean

  2. Lili Rehak Saturday, August 17, 2019 (6:41pm) / 6:41 pm

    Hello, Is there an advance schedule that is available for digs using volunteers in Caithness for 2020? I would like to be a useful tourist and go on a dig!! I love history, am retired, and fairly able-bodied. #freelabor

    Many thanks,

    Lili Rehak

    • seanlisle1 Monday, August 19, 2019 (2:07pm) / 2:07 pm

      Hi Lili, We haven’t finalised the dig schedule for 2020 yet. The scedule will be published on this blog during Feb/March 2020 when we have agreed funding in place. Regards Sean Page

      • Lili C Rehak Monday, August 19, 2019 (3:42pm) / 3:42 pm

        Thank you, Sean. I will keep a look out then.

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