Issue: A Later prehistoric house and Early Medieval buildings in Northern Scotland:

Subtitle excavations at Loch Shurrery and Lambsdale Leans, Caithness, 1955, with a note on Lower Dounreay
Publication Type
Abstract Two rescue excavations at the northern edge of a rather sparsely occupied part of the interior of Caithness are reported here, lying near to one of the largest clusters of archaeological sites in the modern county. In the event, the monuments were not threatened, and survive.<br /><br />Because of the limited nature of the excavation at Loch Shurrery (NGR ND 043568),the main value of the evidence about the hut circle relates to its structure and dating. The excavated remains represented a medium-sized oval house with a west-facing entrance. It had an off-centre hearth of rectangular construction. It was rather different in structure to the majority of the small group of such sites which have been excavated in the northern part of the Scottish mainland, as it did not appear to have an internal ring of post holes. In addition, its western entrance is not matched at the other sites, where entrance orientations are to the south, east or south-east. The wall of the Loch Shurrery house was fairly thick and the excavation suggested that it was complex, while the entrance passageway was quite long. The existence of door checks is also an unusual feature and may relate to the entrance structures of brochs and other substantial roundhouses. Two samples of charcoal from the hearth inside the hut circle were submitted for radiocarbon dating: the determinations produce calibrated ranges (at 2-sigma) of 346-4 cal BC and 341 cal BC-1 cal AD. It is likely that most of the excavated, undecorated pottery is also Iron Age, part of a broad tradition of very coarsely tempered pottery. Not-withstanding evidence of extended occupation, the whole period of construction and occupation may have occurred within the Iron Age.<br /><br />The mound of Lambsdale Leans (NGR ND 051548)lies in Reay parish, situated on low-lying ground at the head of Loch Shurrery and close to where its main tributary (the Torran Water) enters the loch from the south. The main characteristics of the this partially-excavated site are the presence of what appeared to be two extended inhumations and the remnants of possible structures associated with several layers of burnt material. Lambsdale Leans itself was a natural mound, of elongated shape and composed largely of sand, into which were set the burials and structural remains. The burials (one certainly female, the other probably so) were not in cists. The structural remains, while not fully excavated, accord well with the general tenor of the available evidence of later first millennium AD buildings in the north of Scotland. Both structures at Lambsdale Leans had floors comprising roughly laid paving, edged with upright slabs, and with an outer kerb of stones. The earliest-dated pottery sherds, unstratified, are from a single grass- tempered handmade vessel whose form cannot be determined. Overall,on one interpretation the Lambsdale Leans evidence favours a context within the Early Medieval period in Caithness. The pottery however, being mostly C12-C13 oxidised wheel-thrown vessels, can be seen to support the suggestion that occupation on the site may have begun in the Medieval period.
Downloads
sair5.pdf (2 MB): Download
Author Alastair MacLaren
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Other Person/Org Ewan Campbell (Author contributing)
Gordon T Cook (Author contributing)
Janet Hooper (Author contributing)
L H Wells (Author contributing)
Colin R W Wallace (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 2003
Volume 5
ISBN 0-903903-74-1
Note Is Portmanteau: 1
Source DigitalBorn
Relations
Monograph Chapter Title Sort Order Both Arrows Access Type Author / Editor Page
Start/End Sort Order Up Arrow
Abstract
1 - 2
Two rescue excavations at the northern edge of a rather sparsely occupied part of the interior of Caithness are reported here, lying near to one of the largest clusters of archaeological sites in the modern county. In the event, the monuments were not threatened, and survive. Because of the limited nature of the excavation at Loch Shurrery (NGR ND 043568),the main value of the evidence about the hut circle relates to its structure and dating. The excavated remains represented a medium-sized oval house with a west-facing entrance. It had an off-centre hearth of rectangular construction. It was rather different in structure to the majority of the small group of such sites which have been excavated in the northern part of the Scottish mainland, as it did not appear to have an internal ring of post holes. In addition, its western entrance is not matched at the other sites, where entrance orientations are to the south, east or south-east. The wall of the Loch Shurrery house was fairly thick and the excavation suggested that it was complex, while the entrance passageway was quite long. The existence of door checks is also an unusual feature and may relate to the entrance structures of brochs and other substantial roundhouses. Two samples of charcoal from the hearth inside the hut circle were submitted for radiocarbon dating: the determinations produce calibrated ranges (at 2-sigma) of 346-4 cal BC and 341 cal BC-1 cal AD. It is likely that most of the excavated, undecorated pottery is also Iron Age, part of a broad tradition of very coarsely tempered pottery. Not-withstanding evidence of extended occupation, the whole period of construction and occupation may have occurred within the Iron Age. The mound of Lambsdale Leans (NGR ND 051548)lies in Reay parish, situated on low-lying ground at the head of Loch Shurrery and close to where its main tributary (the Torran Water) enters the loch from the south. The main characteristics of the this partially-excavated site are the presence of what appeared to be two extended inhumations and the remnants of possible structures associated with several layers of burnt material. Lambsdale Leans itself was a natural mound, of elongated shape and composed largely of sand, into which were set the burials and structural remains. The burials (one certainly female, the other probably so) were not in cists. The structural remains, while not fully excavated, accord well with the general tenor of the available evidence of later first millennium AD buildings in the north of Scotland. Both structures at Lambsdale Leans had floors comprising roughly laid paving, edged with upright slabs, and with an outer kerb of stones. The earliest-dated pottery sherds, unstratified, are from a single grass-tempered handmade vessel whose form cannot be determined. Overall,on one interpretation the Lambsdale Leans evidence favours a context within the Early Medieval period in Caithness. The pottery however, being mostly C12-C13 oxidised wheel-thrown vessels, can be seen to support the suggestion that occupation on the site may have begun in the Medieval period.\r\n
Alastair MacLaren
3
The work was carried out in 1955 due to a potential threat of destruction which did not materialise. Both sites are still extant.
Alastair MacLaren
4 - 10
This section described the appearance of the site prior to excavation and the methods employed for investigation. The wall comprised random rubble and soil resting on a thin foundation of flat slabs and rough cobbling. The entrance and part of the passageway survived. The interior was disturbed but sufficient flagstones remained in position to support the interpretation that the floor was originally composed of paving bedded on a layer of rough cobbling set into the natural clay subsoil. Charcoal from a hearth was radiocarbon dated. A post-socket contained a saddle quern and a reused cup marked stone was found within the wall tumble.
Ewan Campbell
11
Three sherds of probable Iron Age date were recovered.
Gordon T Cook
12
Two radiocarbon dates were obtained from charcoal within a hearth. Both were Iron Age.
Richard Hingley
13 - 14
Loch Shurrey hut circle represents one of a small group of such sites which have been excavated in the northern part of the Scottish mainland. With so few excavated examples it is not possible to draw any clear conclusions about the class as a whole. The pottery and certain aspects of the construction might support the idea of an Iron Age phase of occupation but this may not be the only phase. Construction may have been earlier with a period of reuse after a period of abandonment.
Alastair MacLaren
15 - 20
Before investigation the site appeared as an irregular oval mound with some stones incorporated. Excavated features comprised an arc of stones which partially enclosed an area of rough paving and the remains of a fireplace. A second stone structure was an irregular rectangle of large uprights with rounded stones outside them. The area within was a rough flagstone floor overlaid by an accumulation of burnt material. Two partial inhumations were found within the mound material.
Ewan Campbell
21 - 22
The pottery suggests a mainly medieval date for the occupation, with a possible beginning in the Norse period and lasting until the 12th-13th centuries, with only casual occupation at later dates. All the material is unstratified so can only give a possible indication of date.
L H Wells
23
Two female adult inhumations were recovered from within the mound. There was no evidence of coffins, cists or gravegoods. One of the women was older and suffered from some joint degeneration.
Janet Hooper
24 - 25
While much of the evidence is tantalisingly imprecise, Lambsdale Leans correlates well with other known sites in the far north of Scotland. Although the known distribution of burials in this area is primarily coastal, the cairn at Watenan provides a parallel as it is also situated by an inland loch. Lambsdale Leans, therefore, appears to find a place within the context of early medieval activity in Caithness. The pottery, however, suggests that occupation on the site, or perhaps more likely nearby, may have continued into the medieval period.
Ministry of Works
26
Human and animal remains were discovered in the course of excavating a deep trench near Lower Dounreay Farm. There were at least seven skeletons, some of which may have been in stone cists. The partial floors of two huts were also revealed.
27
28 - 29
Alastair MacLaren
Two rescue excavations at the northern edge of a rather sparsely occupied part of the interior of Caithness are reported here, lying near to one of the largest clusters of archaeological sites in the modern county. In the event, the monuments were not threatened, and survive. Because of the limited nature of the excavation at Loch Shurrery (NGR ND 043568), the main value of the evidence about the hut circle relates to its structure and dating. The excavated remains represented a medium-sized oval house with a west-facing entrance. It had an off-centre hearth of rectangular construction. It was rather different in structure to the majority of the small group of such sites which have been excavated in the northern part of the Scottish mainland, as it did not appear to have an internal ring of post holes. In addition, its western entrance is not matched at the other sites, where entrance orientations are to the south, east or south-east. The wall of the Loch Shurrery house was fairly thick and the excavation suggested that it was complex, while the entrance passageway was quite long. The existence of door checks is also an unusual feature and may relate to the entrance structures of brochs and other substantial roundhouses. Two samples of charcoal from the hearth inside the hut circle were submitted for radiocarbon dating: the determinations produce calibrated ranges (at 2-sigma )of 346-4 cal BC and 341 cal BC-1 cal AD. It is likely that most of the excavated, undecorated pottery is also Iron Age, part of a broad tradition of very coarsely tempered pottery. Notwithstanding evidence of extended occupation, the whole period of construction and occupation may have occurred within the Iron Age. The mound of Lambsdale Leans (NGR ND 051548) lies in Reay parish, situated on low-lying ground at the head of Loch Shurrery and close to where its main tributary (the Torran Water) enters the loch from the south. The main characteristics of the this partially-excavated site are the presence of what appeared to be two extended inhumations and the remnants of possible structures associated with several layers of burnt material. Lambsdale Leans itself was a natural mound, of elongated shape and composed largely of sand, into which were set the burials and structural remains. The burials (one certainly female, the other probably so) were not in cists. The structural remains, while not fully excavated, accord well with the general tenor of the available evidence of later first millennium AD buildings in the north of Scotland. Both structures at Lambsdale Leans had floors comprising roughly laid paving, edged with upright slabs, and with an outer kerb of stones. The earliest-dated pottery sherds, unstratified, are from a single grass- tempered handmade vessel whose form cannot be determined. Overall, on one interpretation the Lambsdale Leans evidence favours a context within the Early Medieval period in Caithness. The pottery however, being mostly twelfth-thirteenth-century oxidised wheel-thrown vessels, can be seen to support the suggestion that occupation on the site may have begun in the medieval period.