Excavation Iron Age Swartigill

Swartigill dig diary 2022 – week two

The excavation of the Swartigill Iron Age settlement has reached the end of its second week, and we have had some exciting finds and made a lot of progress.
Picture: Bobby Friel
Drone shot of the Swartigill site half-way through the excavation. (Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

This year’s excavation at the Swartigill Iron Age settlement has reached the end of its second week, and we have had some exciting finds and made a lot of progress.

As you may have seen from our previous instalment, one of our regular volunteer excavators, Val Ashpool, discovered a beautiful “Northern Spiral” glass bead. This find represents part of a growing assemblage of items of personal adornment from the site.

In the area where Val found the bead, we are seeing evidence of another small structure emerging from below the alluvial silts! Val, along with volunteer excavator Roland Spencer-Jones, from the North of Scotland Archaeology Society, has been helping to define and record this feature, which appears kidney shaped in plan. This building could be a small cellular annexe to larger roundhouse Structure D. Time will surely tell.

Picture: Bobby Friel
UHI Archaeology Institute student Steff planning. (Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

The task of investigating Structure D has been made easier now that we have started to remove the large blocky stones at the northern end of Structure E.

This feature appears to be a simple enclosure, possibly relating to agricultural activity on the flood plain during the Medieval period.

UHI Archaeology Institute students Nicola Thompson and Steff Broadfoot planned and then helped excavate it, under the supervision of ORCA project officer Bobby Friel.

The excavation of Structure E will allow us to start exploring more of Structure D. The initial signs were that structure D was roughly circular in plan in comparison to its neighbour, Structure B.

UHI Archaeology Institute Masters student Sara Marinoni has been supervising the investigation of this building, and although there is a lot of work still to do, early indications are that there is more complexity to Structure D than first meets the eye.

Picture: ORCA
Linda and Caroline in Structure C. (ORCA)

To the east of Structure D, ORCA project officer Linda Sommerville has been getting to grips with Structure C, along with UHI Archaeology Institute undergraduate student Caroline Still. This enigmatic building, with its arrangement of edge-set stones, has long awaited further investigation, and we suspect it may represent a part of the site that pre-dates the Iron Age settlement.

Hopefully, Linda’s team will find some evidence which helps us to understand its form and function before it was incorporated into the east side of Structure D.

In Structure B, UHI Archaeology Institute PhD student Holly Young has been supervising the investigation of a newly emerging hearth in the centre of the structure. Previous traces of occupation in this building have been very thin on the ground, both figuratively and literally!

The survival of this more formal occupation area is very exciting and likely to be packed with invaluable information about the people who lived and worked in the building. The process of recovering this information can often be painstakingly slow due to the necessity to carefully record and sample all the layers associated with occupation activity.

Picture: Holly Young
Eve excavating in Structure B. (Holly Young)

Holly has been ably assisted by UHI Archaeology Institute undergraduate student Eve Clark, who was joined by her colleague Nicola Thompson later in the week. Together they took samples from the ashy layers surrounding the hearth, which contained large quantities of burnt animal bone.

Our team of volunteer excavators have been helping to define the areas to the east and west of the main structures. This is an incredibly vital part of the process, since it allows us to see the interconnectivity between these buildings, and how they developed over time.

Picture: ORCA
UHI Archaeology institute postgraduates Sara Marinoni and Holly Young discussing the excavation of Structure D with volunteer digger Rhona Macpherson. (ORCA)

The excavation of peat layers on the east side of the site by Deryck and Anthea Dean has revealed more of the flagstone surface that we know surrounded the buildings on this side of the site – more evidence that there was some form of courtyard on this side of the settlement.

Judging by the depth of the peat layer and the build-up of material in this area, it is likely to have always been a very wet part of the settlement. The people who lived here throughout the Iron Age appeared to manage this by placing successive layers of flagstone and cobbles, that sank into the mud and made a stable surface.

Even more interesting features are starting to emerge from this area, but you will have to wait until next week’s blog for find out more.

The Swartigill dig team. (Bobby Friel/@takethehighview)

Sadly, we have bid farewell to some of our UHI students from the first two weeks of the excavation. Caroline, Eve and Steff have returned home to get ready for the start of a new semester. Sara Marinoni is also leaving us this week, and we are sad to say farewell to new friends and team members.

They have all vowed to return to Swartigill, which is proving to be an extremely interesting site and a difficult place to leave behind!

We will be back with regular updates as the project continues, and if you are interested in seeing the site, why not pop along for a visit?

We will be excavating every day until September 8, before we pack up for the end of the dig on September 9. Our open day is this Saturday, September 3, and this will be a great opportunity to come and visit the site, see some of the artefacts we’ve recovered and meet the team!