Excavation Iron Age ORCA Swartigill

Swartigill dig diary 2021 – a very productive day on site

It was a somewhat fresh, cool start to the morning today which, despite the contrast to last week’s glorious sunshine, has not dampened the spirits of the team. Holly Young reports...

Monday, August 30, 2021

By Holly Young, site supervisor

It was a somewhat fresh, cool start to the morning today which, despite the contrast to last week’s glorious sunshine, has not dampened the spirits of the Burn of Swartigill excavation team.

We welcomed two returning volunteers to the site today: Roland Spencer-Jones, a trustee of the Yarrows Heritage Trust, and  MRes student from Durham University, Leah Tillet. We also welcomed Amy Blank, an undergraduate student from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute undertaking part of her excavation skills module.

Roland joined Deryck, Anthea and Islay, who spent the morning finishing off their plan of the south-west trench extension.

They are now continuing to expose the large stonework in this area, which may potentially be associated with Structure C – many of the details of which are currently unknown. This is requiring the movement of a huge amounts of soil so all those involved have been working very hard over the last few days to reach the archaeological levels.

Structures emerging in the south-west extension (foreground).

Joining in on the quick-paced mattocking and shovelling is Alannah and Mary, who have been diligently excavating deposits in the north-west extension, to the west of souterrain, Structure A.

After removing the upper layers of alluvium, they encountered charcoal-rich deposits, which may relate to an episode of burning or a dump of burnt material from somewhere in the surrounding area. This required careful sampling and recording of the deposits so they can be analysed later to search for more environmental information.

A great deal of sampling is also being undertaken within Structure B, where Leia joined me to pick apart burnt ashy deposits that could represent the secondary use of the large structure.

Leia Tilley excavating floor and hearth deposits in Structure B.

This required the careful stringing out of a 50cm grid across the structure. The deposits are excavated stratigraphically one by one, grid by grid, and 100 per cent sampled. They will be processed in the same fashion as those taken by Alannah and Mary but the grid system means we will know exactly where in the deposit each piece of information comes from, giving a detailed picture of the activities within the building.

Calum and Amy setting up the dumpy level.

From the interior of Structure B to the exterior of Structure A, where Amy Blank joined Calum Hall, who is continuing to reveal the construction cut of the souterrain and a very orangey deposit containing a large quantity of burnt bone.

The acidic soil on site means that animal bone, and other organic artefacts, do not survive well. Burnt bone, however, is more resilient and survives better. The deposits were photographed and then planned in detail before more work to remove material from the souterrain construction cut.

Further down the burn section, Travis continued carefully recording and excavating some of the pottery spread, which today consisted mostly of base pieces – these may be part of single pot, the fragments of which have been pressed up against the face of a wall.

The soil matrix surrounding this pot overlays some small, angular rubble, contained within a curb of stones. This area of the site is quite intriguing, so keep an eye on the blog for more information over the next few days.

Today has been a very productive day, which bodes well for the rest of the week. We will bring you more regular updates as we progress with the excavation.