Swartigill Excavation

Category: Historical
Written By


Caithness Broch Project

Our newest and youngest project member, Joy, reflects on her first excavation at Swartigill...

At the beginning of August, as one of my first activities since joining Caithness Broch Project, I took part in the local Yarrows Heritage Trust and/or UHI Archaeology Institute dig at Swartigill Burn in Thrumster. This was my first time at an archaeological dig and I volunteered with CBP co-founder Kenneth McElroy.

As a History student with the University of the Highlands and Islands the only experience I’d had no hands-on experience in archaeology, so it was great to experience the practical side of archaeology and get involved in a local excavation.

When we arrived at Swartigill we were given a detailed tour of the site, provided with tools and equipment, and shown to the area that we were to excavate. We were told about the progress of the excavation and the speculations about the nature of the structures.


A view of Swartigill

The Iron Age site contains numerous different interconnected structures such as a roundhouse and a souterrain. The site dates to the same period as the brochs, but provides an alternative and equally interesting insight into the society of the Iron Age. The site could help in understanding the way that Iron Age people engaged with structures aside from brochs.

While I did not find any artefacts while at Swartigill it was really worthwhile knowing that I was digging at the site where Iron Age people are known to have once been. It was great that potentially where I was digging something of significance may be found or part of a structure revealed that provides some information about the way in which Iron Age people engaged with the structures at Swartigill.


Joy's excavation space - nothing found, but skills gained!

There have been numerous finds at Swartigill such as three blue glass beads which were found at the site of the souterrain. An additional Iron Age bead was found a couple of days after I visited Swartigill which is speculated to date between 200BC and 200AD (information about both finds can be found at https://archaeologyorkney.com/category/swartigill-dig-diary/)

Everyone was incredibly welcoming and helpful at Swartigill. There were a range of people there such as archaeology students, volunteers, and professional archaeologists. At lunch previously excavated finds were passed around, and in the afternoon ice creams were brought on site to enjoy in the sunny weather.

Excavation at the site has been ongoing for many years and this season’s dig began on the 15th August 2022 and finished on the 9th September 2022.

For more information on the amazing landscape of Yarrows and the Swartigill site, follow Yarrows Heritage Trust and/or UHI Archaeology Institute!


A happy Joy!