Excavation Iron Age ORCA Swartigill

Swartigill dig diary 2021 – view from the trenches

The tenth day of the 2021 excavation at the Burn of Swartigill started with a perfect blue morning. Going to “work” was a pleasure.

Wednesday, September 1

By Roland Spencer-Jones

Blue skies over the Burn of Swartigill excavation site. (Roland Spencer-Jones)

The tenth day of the 2021 excavation at the Burn of Swartigill started with a perfect blue morning. Going to “work” was a pleasure.

The excavating team has been on site for some time now and continued working on their individual areas, as described in previous blogs. During the day we were visited by two small groups of interested visiting public, wanting to know about the site and what was going on. Rick showed them round.

The perfect blue morning turned cloudier during the day, which was no bad thing as far as site photography was concerned. There were no school visits today, just working away, recognising that work on site will pause now for a long weekend, recommencing on Monday, September 6.

Anthea and Deryck. (Roland Spencer-Jones)

The excavation contains three groups of workers – three professional archaeologists from ORCA/UHI (Rick Barton, Holly, Calum), undergraduate archaeology students, and community volunteers.

This is my fourth season at Swartigill, and part of the pleasure of the dig is meeting the other workers, having a chat (not forgetting the excavating, mind), understanding their backgrounds and generally discussing archaeology.

On Wednesday there were ten of us volunteers on site. Some, like Anthea and Deryck from Blairgowrie, had considerable excavation experience over many years.

Others like Alison, from Wick, Islay and Catherine from Thrumster, and me from Beauly, had been digging on various sites over many years.

Alison at work on site. (Roland Spencer-Jones)

Some of Wednesday’s team were novices, carefully learning the skills of excavation, sometimes wary of doing something wrong, but happy to be on their knees learning about archaeology.

Half Wednesday’s volunteers had, or were in the process of acquiring, academic qualifications in archaeology.

It was interesting to hear their stories, understand what brought them into archaeology, and tap into the expertise and knowledge they had already acquired. Val from Caithness has an archaeology degree and is just about to start her MLitt at the UHI Archaeology Institute. Leia is undertaking a MRes at Durham University. Mary has completed the UHI archaeology degree while Anthea is still working through it.

Val. (Roland Spencer-Jones)
Leia planning on site. (Roland Spencer-Jones)

I love digging. There’s something absorbing, even mindful, in the careful removal of soil material in “my” bit of the trench. The hours go by very easily. Constant attention to what I’m uncovering takes place at the same time as trying to make sense of what I’m uncovering. Is this stone part of a structure that is not yet fully uncovered? How does my bit relate to the areas around me that others are working on? When’s the next coffee break? etc…

The western extension at Swartigill. (Roland Spencer-Jones)

“My” bit has been the 2021 western extension of the trench, with its confusing array of stones, some of which are definitely aligned and represent walls, although others turn out to be tumble.

So, at the end of the day, we said goodbye to the UHI Archaeology Institute students, as they finished their attachment. They’ll be replaced next Monday by a new team of UHI undergraduates, for what will effectively be the second half of the dig.