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Will new beach discovery help us understand how to live with climate change?

15 July 11

A team of archaeologists from the University of Bradford and Orkney College, University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) are investigating eroding archaeological remains along the coast of Rousay. First settled over 10,000 years ago, it is hoped this latest find on the island can help explain immediate environment.

Archaeologists from Bradford join the international ‘Islands of Change’ research project. Using the latest laser scanning technology they are able record the finds of prehistoric and Viking remains at Swandro on Rousay before the site disappears into the sea. 

The University of Bradford's Steve Dockrill, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Archaeological Sciences, describes the archaeological potential of the island as being outstanding. He said:  "It will allow us to look at important issues such as the longevity of settlements and resilience against climatic and environmental change. The past is providing information relevant to present day problems associated with global warming."

Dr Julie Bond, also a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and Archaeological Sciences at Bradford, saw upright stones poking up through the storm beach. Now, after lots of clearing work the team has detected a huge building lying partly under the sea, which may be an Iron Age broch. Dr Julie Bond said: “This research is showing the way ahead for recording world-class archaeology in the face of sea level rises”.

The site will inform research about historic changes in sea level, and what techniques can be used to preserve or record sites which are being rapidly eroded by the sea due to climate change. A 3D laser scanner was used by Orkney research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA) Marine archaeologist Mark Littlewood, producing remarkable accurate images of the site.  

The interaction between the native, Pictish, population and the Vikings – both of whom were buried in the nearby Westness cemetery – is also expected to be better understood following the site’s discovery. Julie Gibson, County Archaeologist for Orkney Islands Council, is particularly intrigued by this possibility, saying: “Hidden beneath the sand here could be the evidence of the first contact between Scandinavian immigrants and Pictish folk”.

Tourists have responded with enthusiasm to the site, with one visitor from the USA declaring the visit to be ‘the best experience in her Orkney tour’. Archaeologists from Orkney College, Dr Jane Downes and Rousay-born Dr Ingrid Mainland, are particularly interested in how these coastal sites can be made more accessible to all; an on-site meeting with ‘Visit Orkney’s Islands’ Manager, Barbara Foulkes, has already provided an opportunity to discuss the find in terms of cultural heritage and tourism developments.

15 July 11

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