2,500-year-old seal tooth necklace found at site of vanishing Orkney village

The seal tooth pendant, which could date to around 500BC, and the site at Swandro on Rousay, Orkney, which is being engulfed by the sea. PIC: University of Bradford.
The seal tooth pendant, which could date to around 500BC, and the site at Swandro on Rousay, Orkney, which is being engulfed by the sea. PIC: University of Bradford.
Share this article
0
Have your say

A pendant made from a seal’s tooth which is thought to have been worn some 2,500 years ago is among the finds made at the site of a vanishing village in Orkney.

The coastal site at Swandro on Rousay is on the verge of disappearing altogether as changing tides eat away at the remains of the settlement which is believed to have been inhabited for more than 1,000 years.

Remains of the roundhouse, which may have formed the centrepiece of the Iron Age village that once stood here. PIC: University of Bradford.

Remains of the roundhouse, which may have formed the centrepiece of the Iron Age village that once stood here. PIC: University of Bradford.

From early Iron Age through to the Pictish era and the Viking age, work by archaeologists at Swandro is illuminating a powerful timeline of Scottish history.

READ MORE: 'Astonishing' find of 2,000-year-old hair on Orkney
This is the second year of excavation at the site by a team from University of Bradford, which is racing against clock to evaluate and preserve as much of the site as possible.

As well as the pendant, a weaving comb made from bone, several pieces of pottery and several shards of Roman glass are the latest finds helping to piece together life at the Swandro settlement. Earlier, a Pictish-era anvil was discovered.

READ MORE: Huge "Viking drinking hall" unearthed on Orkney
Dr Stephen Dockrill, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Bradford, said: “The pendant is a significant find. The use of teeth such as this being perforated and used as a amulet happens throughout prehistory. So it is an unusual but not totally uncommon.

The bone weaving comb, one of the key finds made during the 2019 excavation of the Swandro site. PIC: University of Bradford.

The bone weaving comb, one of the key finds made during the 2019 excavation of the Swandro site. PIC: University of Bradford.

“What is also interesting is the material it was found with, such as pottery that is very different to the type of pottery we have found at Swandro before.

“These items came from deposits right at the bottom of an Iron Age sequence, a series of layers of archaeology underneath a building which we think dates from the 1st Century BC to the 1st Century AD.

“They really tell a lot about how people were living here in the past and this rich supply of items help us see how things have changed over time.”

This is the second year of a three-year project to excavate Swandro before the sea claims it once and for all.

Dr Dockrill said Swandro was essentially an Iron Age village, which dates to around 500BC which may once have been surrounded by a ditch and centred around a huge roundhouse, the remains of which are also being excavated

While Swandro would have always have overlooked out to sea, the land on which it stood would once have stretched out much further into the water than it does now.

The team is due to return to the site in 2020 but Dr Dockrill said it was unlikely that all of the settlement remains will have survived.

He added: “The part of the site closest to the sea, well I don’t think that will have survived by next year.

“This is why we put a lot of effort into excavating as much as we can of the oldest part of the site when we are there. We have our fingers crossed that there will not be a major storm over the year.

“The archaeology is extremely vulnerable to the changes in sea level due to climate change and what we are also seeing is the effect of the tide. Every tide is acting like a vacuum and, as it goes out, it takes material away. It is weakening the site.

"It is not just the storms we have to worry about, every tide is having an impact. We can see a marked different in the survival of the archaeology. It is quite important as we see the impact of climate change today to have evidence of these really long time spells to help us understand how people have adapted in the past.”

www.swandro.co.uk