Orkney's excavation season commences

It's all go at the moment with the 2018 digging season in Orkney well and truly underway. First to kick off was the Cairns at Windwick in South Ronaldsay, where a team of archaeologists from the University of the Highlands and Islands are excavating an Iron Age site which includes a broch, with associated Pictish and Viking structures. This week the excavation at the Knowe of Swandro in Rousay starts on Tuesday 26th June for six weeks, with a team from the University of Bradford, together with an American contingent from William Patterson University and New York's Hunter College are working on a chambered tomb.

Looking south across the Knowe of Swandro, Rousay: the concentric rings of stone are the outer walls of the chambered tomb.
Looking south across the Knowe of Swandro, Rousay: the concentric rings of stone are the outer walls of the chambered tomb.

Swandro is a site close to our hearts here at Orkney Archaeology Tours, as both our tour leaders are trustees of the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust, the charity which fund raises for the site, and we also sponsor the excavation through our business. Tour leader Caz will be digging at Swandro throughout the season, whilst tour leader Dave is eagerly awaiting the retrieval of human remains from the chambered tomb, as he is the site osteoarchaeologist.

Of course the biggest and best known excavation is the Neolithic complex at the Ness of Brodgar, about to start for an 8-week season on the 2nd of July. We also sponsor the Ness of Brodgar, the most important component of which is the Ness Squares board. For those of you who have never visited the dig, this started out as an idea from site director Nick Card, who made a small poster of the site and asked people to sponsor a square of the site by sticking a little paper dot on the poster. It worked well, but was too small and prone to suffer in the wet, and so the new improved Ness squares board was born - here's the 2018 board in all its glory:

The 2018 Ness of Brodgar 'Sponsor a Square' board
The 2018 Ness of Brodgar 'Sponsor a Square' board

We built the frame out of timber, with a 'coo comfort mat' screwed to it - that's a rubber byre mat for cattle to lie on it the winter - you need a rubber base so that the pins that people stick in to sponsor the square have something to stick into. The banner is printed up at the Orcadian on vinyl, then glued & screwed to the board. We change the picture every year as the site changes, here's the new banner being carefully inspected by the quality control cat Sookie:

Ness of Brodgar squares board banner ready to be stuck down
New Ness of Brodgar banner being inspected

The banner and board then gets a good slathering of copydex and is carefully press into position and screwed down round the edges. There would have been some good photos of yours truly lying full length under the folded banner carefully rolling it out but I was on my own so you'll have to imagine it. Suffice to say that Copydex is really hard to get out of your hair - you just have to basically cut it out!

Glue applied, ready for the big stick down

Now all we have to do it borrow a friend's trailer to get it to down to the site - we have to do it on a non-windy day as it does tend to fall over if it catches the wind. It's been a big success over the years - last year we raised nearly £25,000 by the time the gift aid was included - not bad at all!