|23 January 2021
Ancient site in Orkney under threat from coastal erosion
The pandemic has stopped the race to save archaeological remains at Knowe of Swandro on the island of Rousay, Orkney (Scotland), which are being eaten away by rising tides and storm surges. The site houses a 5,500-year-old Neolithic burial chamber, the remains of a large and unusual high-status Iron Age roundhouse, Pictish dwellings, a smithy, and a grand Norse Hall.
The coastal site has long been damaged by rising tides and coastal erosion and now archaeologists are 'keeping their fingers crossed' that it will still be there when they return to Rousay once the health emergency abates.
Dr Julie Bond and Dr Stephen Dockrill, of Bradford University, have retrieved material from Swandro for the past 10 years but with last year's excavation cancelled due to the pandemic and next summer's dig in doubt, there are now real concerns over what will be left when they return.
Dr Dockrill said: "Every year we are getting big erosion events with storm surges coming into the site and taking material away. The other thing is that the daily tide is coming in and out and every time archaeological material is going into solution. By not being there, we will have lost a lot of material on the seaward side."
A priority is the rescue excavation of the chambered tomb, which is likely to hold Neolithic burial remains, which sits under an unsual Iron Age roundhouse. The large roundhouse, which has now been dated to 800 to 400 BCE, is also of particular interest given it is up 700 years older than similar buildings.
The archaeologists usually welcome a large, international team of students to assist with the excavations at Swandro with a collective of multi-disciplinary experts lined up to work on the site. Dr Bond said the situation was 'frustrating' but that safety of the team and of the island took absolute priority .
To support the work at Swandro, visit www.swandro.co.uk
Edited from The Scotsman (16 January 2021)
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