Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust celebrates royal patronage

26 March 2019
His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, has agreed to take on the patronage of the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust.

His Royal Highness Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, has agreed to take on the patronage of the Swandro-Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust. 

Swandro Orkney Coastal Archaeology Trust was formed in November 2016 to respond to the destruction of Orkney’s archaeological sites by the sea. Orkney has around 980km of coastline, with many archaeological sites situated on the foreshore and subject to ongoing coastal erosion. Global warming, the effects of climate change and melting polar ice are promoting higher sea levels and changing weather systems with increased storminess, which is exacerbating an existing problem. 

Rescue excavation

The Trust's latest project is the rescue excavation of the archaeological site at the Knowe of Swandro, in the island of Rousay, which is being destroyed by coastal erosion. The site includes a 5,000-year-old Neolithic (New Stone Age) chambered tomb and a large settlement occupied from around 1000BC to AD1200 consisting of Iron Age roundhouses, Pictish buildings (including a smithy, where one of the stone anvils preserved the hand and knee prints of the Pictish metalworker), together with Viking and Norse remains.

The immediate priority for the 2019 and 2020 excavation seasons, building on the success of the 2017 and 2018 excavations, is the completion of the rescue excavation of the chambered tomb, and the substantial Iron Age buildings which overly it.

The later buildings appear to be the remains of a wealthy and important settlement which existed throughout the Iron Age until the arrival of the Vikings. The outer walls of the tomb have been destroyed and limited time remains before the sea reaches the burial chamber itself. The main burial chamber is likely to hold 5,000-year-old human remains, which the Trust aims to recover before they are lost to the sea.

Properly excavated, such remains have the potential to shed new light on Neolithic burial practices and the lifestyles of the people of 5,000 years ago, including valuable information relating to diet, health and the origins of Orkney's Neolithic farmers. The excavation will also lead to an understanding of the effects of the tidal and storm damage on the site, to enhance future management strategies for this and other coastal erosion sites.  

A distinguished patron

Speaking about the royal patronage announcement, the Trust's Chair Dr Steve Dockrill (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Bradford) said: 'This is a great honour for us and we are delighted that His Royal Highness has accepted our invitation to become our Patron. The work of the Trust, and in particular our current research excavation investigating both the archaeology and the processes of erosion at the multi-period site at the Knowe of Swandro in Rousay, brings together two of His Royal Highness' interests.

'The Prince has long campaigned to raise awareness of the dangers of global warming and climate change, and read archaeology and anthropology as a Cambridge undergraduate.  We hope that having such a distinguished Patron will raise the profile of the Trust and also make more people aware of the threat to our heritage posed by global warming'.

Dr Julie Bond (Senior Lecturer in Archaeology, University of Bradford and director of the archaeological excavations at Swandro) added: ‘We are delighted that His Royal Highness has agreed to be our Patron as we aim to bring notice to the threat to the amazing archaeology of Orkney; this is a real boost to our work and to the many people who support us. We couldn’t excavate this important site without them and the support from Orkney Islands Council and Historic Environment Scotland.’

For more, visit the Trust's website.

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