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  • Writer's pictureStephen Jennings

Site in Focus - Channerwick

The notion of the coastline at Channerwick containing archaeological material was first

documented in the 1950s. The site was visited by archaeologists undertaking the Coastal Assessment Survey in 1999 and again by the Amenity Trust in 2000. While at this stage it was clear there was archaeological material eroding there was no indication this might be a siginificant site. The site was then monitored periodically by local archaeologists.

After the stormy winter of 2012/13 the site was partially excavated and recorded by local archaeologist Dr Samantha Dennis when a skeleton became visible in the lower section. This tall and well-built burial has been radio carbon dated to the late 18th or mid-19th century so may well have been a drowning victim. Local folklore hints at burials in the area and/or something buried under a large stone slab at the edge of the beach. Unknown drowning victims were commonly buried in this type of location.

After the gales of 2013/14 the site became further exposed. This blog post from a SCAPE

visit in 2014 shows the building beginning to appear sufficiently to be identified as a

possible large Iron Age roundhouse or broch.

At a meeting of Archaeology Shetland in February local archaeologist Rick Barton

suggested this site would make the perfect project for an excavation as it is likely to be

further damaged by the sea over the winter. Wheels were set in motion when SCAPE

returned to Shetland to train members using their SCHARP app for recording coastal

archaeology and to have another look at Channerwick. Following a site visit with local

archaeologists and a meeting with the Amenity Trust the landowners at Channerwick

were contacted and plans began to fall into place. With their kind agreement the

excavation ran from the 1st-9th August involving SCAPE, local archaeologists and

members of Archaeology Shetland.

The dig surpassed all expectations. We have the remains of what is almost certainly a

broch, sectioned in half by the sea, with a wheelhouse inserted later as is commonly seen

in other Shetland brochs. The small void visible at the start of the dig and which intrigued us mightily turned out to be the corbelled top of a well situated under the broch floor and typical of wells found in other brochs across the Highlands and Islands. The southern side of the broch survives at foundation level and slightly above whilst the northern side appears to have been robbed out for building stone, probably during the expansion of Channerwick from the mid-18th century. The well survives almost intact having lost a small part of the upper wall. It has now been lined and backfilled to attempt to preserve it so we can continue to excavate right to the bottom next year. Above the well stands a wheelhouse pier and a series of hearths which appear to be contemporary with them. To the north side is the matching pier containing traces of yellow clay lining similar to that seen in some of the post broch buildings at Old Scatness.

At the moment the finds (mostly the typical animal bone, fish bone and shell, with some pottery and a very nice bone toggle) are all boxed up safely in the Shetland Museum store. Work will begin soon to clean those found on the final day (the rest were washed on site), identify and catalogue all finds and determine which need to be sent for expert analysis. Archaeology Shetland is now monitoring the site and will be down regularly recording any changes that take place.

Links for further information:

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