Excavation Iron Age Swartigill Dig Diary

Excavation begins at Caithness Iron Age site

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.
Aerial view of the Swartigill site. (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. (Bobby Friel @Takethehighview)

The 2019 excavations commence on August 19, and run until September 8.

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, August 19, and Thursday, August 29. The excavation will then continue from Tuesday, September 3, until Sunday, September 8, 2019.

The community dig at Swartigill. (UHI Archaeology Institute)

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


5 comments

  1. 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, https://archaeologyorkney.com/2019/07/22/the-cairns-day-20-the-final-day/).

  2. 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

    1. 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

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