Case Study: Littleferry Links

Susan Kruse

The site of Littleferry near Golspie (MHG11663; MHG11655) has been known as a long used crossing point of the mouth of Loch Fleet. However, it was also a prolific lithic working site for millennia, with a large number of worked objects and debris found. Pictish sculpture from the links suggests continued importance into the early medieval period (Close-Brooks 1989). The route continued to be an important ferry crossing in historic times, only bypassed by Telford’s causeway on the Mound at the beginning of the 19th century.

Two fragments showing a crescent and V-rod motif.
Figure 1: One of the fragments of Pictish sculpture from Littleferry Links (with a replica fragment below) ©HES

The dune sites have produced one of the largest lithic collections in the country, over a thousand in the National Museums Scotland, hundreds in Dunrobin Castle Museum, some in Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and substantial numbers known to have been in private collections, now lost (see Historylinks Archive). The site was in use for millennia, from the Mesolithic onwards, with many objects showing different stages of production.

Over 500 Neolithic leaf-shaped arrowheads were recovered, one of the largest collections in Scotland, as well as roughouts for stone axes, quantities of Bronze Age barbed-and-tanged arrowheads, scrapers and knives, many from flint (which would have been imported), others from local materials. In addition to the lithic material, prehistoric pottery was found, as has occurred at similar sites in the Highlands and further afield (Bradley et al 2017). There was also at least one faience bead from the site, now on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Faience beads date to the Bronze Age and were high status glass-like objects. Faience was probably made at Culbin Sands near Nairn (MHG55366), as well as Luce Sands in southwest Scotland, both areas which have many similarities to Littleferry (Sheridan and Shortland 2004). The dunes have shifted over time, and it is not known exactly where most of the objects were found.

Collection of leaf-shaped arrowheads in a variety of different flints.
Figure 2: Selection of finds from Littleferry Links on display in Dunrobin Museum. ©The Sutherland Dunrobin Trust
Collection of barbed and tanged arrowheads in a variety of different flints.
Figure 3: Selection of finds from Littleferry Links on display in Dunrobin Museum. ©The Sutherland Dunrobin Trust

Now on a spit of land, due to sea level changes in prehistoric times the end of the spit was an offshore island, without evidence of settlement. This suggests a place viewed as somewhat apart, perhaps even a place for exchange for people travelling along the coast (Bradley et al 2017).  Other large production sites sited on the shore are found in the Highlands on both east and west coasts. The site of Culbin Sands which straddles the Highland – Moray border to the southeast is perhaps best known, but again all finds date before proper investigation. High status objects from the Neolithic onwards were recovered, and dispersed even more widely than Littleferry finds. Fendom Sands near Tain (MHG60225) is another similar site but has been largely destroyed due to use as a bombing range, a fate shared with the other major dune site in Scotland, Glenluce Sands in Dumfries and Galloway; Cul na Croise, Lochaber (MHG356) has been disturbed by use as WWII training (Williamson et al 2016). Other similar dune sites with concentrations of lithics include Cuthill Links, near Dornoch Sutherland (MHG11824; MHG17927; MHG18108), Achnahaird Sands, Wester Ross (MHG9129), South Cuidrach, Skye (MHG59071), and Loch Sunart, Lochaber (MHG148). These sites all deserve further investigation, to be placed in their local context and their use over time analysed.