Roundhouses and Simple Atlantic Roundhouses

Roundhouses were constructed in a number of materials, and in the main, this probably relates to local availability. Many were solely built from stone and the more substantial of these stone roundhouses are identified as sARs or cARs (see below); others were built of stone and turf, turf only, turf and wattle or timber-only constructions. As a result, the term ’roundhouse’ includes examples of buildings in a range of materials. Simple stone-walled roundhouses, typically with wall widths that are thinner than sARs or cARs build on the roundhouse tradition of the Bronze Age, though no simple development sequence can be put forward. However, at Lairg the Iron Age constructions show some differences from earlier buildings. House 7, which had Iron Age dates, marked a departure from Bronze Age houses on the site because it used more stone and also had evidence of an internal post-ring (McCullagh and Tipping 1998; see Table 7.6 for dates).

Within this broad category, sARS are defined as having either one wall without intramural space or no indication of double wall in the upper stories. The wall construction of sARs is of a composite structure consisting of two faces and an uncompacted rubble-mix core; the walls were not built with layered courses throughout (Romankiewicz 2009). Many buildings published as duns but which do not have intramural spaces, would be considered sARs; see Fairhurst (1939); Harding (1984); Henderson and Gilmour (2012); Romankiewicz (2009, 381) for discussions of dun buildings.

Often all that remains of these structures for analysis is the lowest footing level, which often survives because it was built from stone, as a wall or as a continuous platform, especially when on sloping ground such as at Dun Ardtreck, Skye. Without upstanding structures, buildings can only be identified through the negative features that remain, such as a ring-ditch, ring-groove or post-ring. These distinctions, as Romankiewicz pointed out, mix functional and structural aspects. For example, the ring-ditch was usually created by repeated wear, while the ring-groove is a foundation trench and therefore a structural feature; both can appear with post-rings. The internal post-ring may or may not be discerned on the surface due to the use of post-pads (Romankiewicz 2009, Romankiewicz 2011, 20, 23ff).

Some timber roundhouses from the Highlands were exceptionally large. Two of the largest roundhouses known from the Highlands are from Culduthel. With a diameter of 18m and 17m internally, these structures were at the upper end of what was feasible to roof (Hatherley and Murray 2021). Investigation at Culduthel (MHG49950) revealed 22 timber roundhouses, most of which were completely excavated (see Case Study Culduthel Iron Age Craftworking Site). All of the roundhouses had postrings, and three had a ring-groove; the two large roundhouses that had the later date from the first centuries AD also had carefully cut ring-ditches. Most of the houses were workshops; indeed none of the structures can categorically be interpreted as solely domestic. The construction of large ring-groove buildings appears elsewhere in the Highlands, for example at Seafield West (MHG3058; Cressey and Anderson 2011), and elsewhere in Scotland, and may be a preferred way to construct large timber buildings in the early years AD (Hatherley and Murray 2021).

While the current evidence has fewer examples of structures dating to the early years AD, there are some examples, to which can be added the cellular buildings surrounding Nybster broch. Roman objects found at some cARs also provide evidence of occupation at this later period.

SiteAreaDatingLab ReferenceCommentsSource
Loch ShurreryC350 BC–AD 5AA-24947Oval roundhouse; dating from hearth. Few finds.MHG1564; MacLaren 2003
Burn of SwartigillC366–192 BC;
198–47 BC
Accuracy not stated). Awaiting other results. Excavation in progress (UHI and Yarrows Heritage Trust), but appears to include Early-Mid Iron Age structuresBarton 2018
Nybster brochCCellular outbuildings
1st–3rd century AD;
49 BC–AD 120 (antler comb)
AD 27–216 (antler comb)
Excavations by Tress Barry in 1890s; AOC Archaeology / Caithness Archaeologist Trust in 2000s. No intramural walls or tower. A range of finds, including Roman artefactsMHG1593; Heald and Cavers 2012; Case Study; Nybster Broch
Whitegate brochC210–50 BC
AD 200–300
SUERC-24961Dating from human remains. Broch is ruinous, with no traces of intrmural features. 19th century excavationsMHG1645; Dates Tucker and Armit 2009; Andy Heald pers comm
KilphedirSHut 2:
733–380 BC. Hut 5: Five dates on same samples
360s BC to AD 230s
GU 299;
GU 10;
L 1061;
Old dates. Settlement with five huts in field system, excavated in 1960s. Most built on platforms dug into hillsides. Internal ringposts. Hut 5 with pronounced circling bank, entrance passage and collapsed roofing branches; multi-phaseMHG9858; Fairhurst and Taylor 1971
CyderhallS755–258 BC
733–234 BC
400–131 BC
400–126 BC
With associated souterrain. Three phases. Phase 1 roundhouse with sunken floor. Fire preserved oak roofing materialMHG11834; Pollock 1992
LairgSc 400–350 BCHouse 7. Greater use of stone than BA houses on site; internal post-ring. Few artefactsMcCullagh and Tipping 1998, 56-58
RhicullenERVarious Middle Iron Age datesProbable post built roundhouse associated with kilnMHG49778; Farrell 2005
Easter RarichieERSeven dates:
400–200 BC
Stone built roundhouse within rampartsMHG44719; Hatherley 2014
Wester RarichieER728–392 BC
736–398 BC (charcoal from internal posthole fills)
Structure on prominent knoll. Turf and stone wall roundhouse with interior postrings. Finds of animal bones, burnt clay, cannel coal bracelet fragmentMHG8465; Hatherley 2014
Dun Morangie, TarlogieER360–170 BC
AD 25–130
AD 235–385
Stone roundhouse c. 9.3m diameter. Three main periods of use, with evidence of remodelling. Limited excavation, so not possible to determine if simple or complex roundhouse. Interior floor levels only excavated for last phase, which had a complex of hearths and slagMHG8706; Hatherley 2015b
Cnoc a’LeacachanER756–390 BCRoundhouse with possible turf bank, 10m internal diameter.MHG28205
Mullans Wood, KilcoyER767–435 BCSUERC-85458Internal ring posts, stone built bank, perhaps turf-covered. In area with prehistoric settlementPeteranna and Stirling forthcoming
Bellfield, North KessockERAwaiting resultsIncludes large Phase 4 roundhouse, rebuilt after burning down; latter building  with turf wallsMHG53532; Jones 2009; Hatherley and Scholma-Mason forthcoming
KnocknagaelIAwaiting resultsHut circle 5a. 13m overall diameter; rubble bank, internal post ringDemay 2018
CulduthelIA number of dates between the 2nd century BC and early 2nd century AD22 roundhouses, most used for  industrial activity. Finds show a high-status settlement. All postring, and three with ring grooves.MHG49950; Hatherley and Murray 2021; Case Study: Culduthel Iron Age Craftworking Site
Seafield WestI200 BC–AD 50 (post-hole fill)
110 BC–AD 140 50 BC–AD 220
170 BC–AD 90
1) Structure G with closely spaced posts. No surviving occupation layers 2) Structure B with inner and outer postring and penannular ditch; 17.5m diameter. Possibly smaller roundhouse within palisadeMHG3058; Cressey and Anderson 2011
Morayston, TornagrainI7 dates, Early Iron AgeRoundhouses. Awaiting publicationEHG5445, dates Lachlan McKeggie pers comm
Balloan, Lower SlackbuieI210–40 BC
360–50 BC
Large postholes, probably for roundhouse, perhaps 6m diameter. Samples from charcoal in postholesMHG3775
FanellanIRange of dates. Roundhouse: Early Iron AgeRoundhouse with inner postring, central hearth, pottery, lithics. Neolithic, Bronze Age and early medieval activity on site.MHG61055; Masson-Maclean 2014; Sneddon forthcoming
Crathie, LagganB&SEarly Iron AgeHearth associated with stone-built wall, presumably part of a structure, but shape unknown. Not fully excavatedMHG54326
Inverewe Estate (Loch Thurnaig)WR770–486 BC  GU-47511Partially excavated roundhouse with large stone built walls c. 5m external diameter.MHG7568 Rhodes and Romankiewicz forthcoming
Inverewe Estate (Ob Na Ba Ruaidhe)WRAwaiting datePartially excavated roundhouse with stone wall footings and orthostats 7.3m internal diameter.MHG7757 Rhodes and Romankiewicz forthcoming
AchnahairdWR511–378 BCSUERC-47072Partially excavated roundhouse 10.9m external diameter, with double skinned wall. Two phases. MHG45594; Welti and Wildgoose nd; www.wedigs.co.uk
Auchtercairn 1 / Torr Na H-Ulaildhe / Auchtercairn R8WR376–197 BC
359–112 BC
Partially excavated large roundhouse on dug-out platform. Dating from two hearths at centreMHG7523; Welti and Wildgoose nd; www.wedigs.co.uk
Loch RaaWR535–391 BC  SUERC-47072Partially excavated roundhouse 10.4m external diameter, with double-skinned wall. Multi-phaseMHG9126; Welti and Wildgoose nd; www.wedigs.co.uk
Meall MorWR755–540 BC
751–511 BC
SUERC-47083Partially excavated roundhouse 10m external diameter. Two occupation levels, one in early medieval PeriodMHG7820; Welti and Wildgoose nd; www.wedigs.co.uk
Beillach A’Ghlinne (An Sithean 6)Skye361–172 BC
231–91 BC
Test pitting of roundhouse on summit of small hill, built over earlier occupation level. Earlier date from below the wall; second from floor surface.MHG6387; Wildgoose 2016, site LS41
Ben SuardalSkye50 BC–AD 90SUERC-33770Test pitting of roundhouse. Finds included pottery, lithics, pot boilers, charcoalsMHG6364; Wildgoose 2016, site LS115
Camas MalagSkye653–542 BCGU-32933Test pitting of roundhouse on boulder-rivetted platform. Date from beneath platform revetmentMHG59562; Wildgoose 2016, site LS120
Coille A’GhasgainSkye899–1 BCRoundhouse with postring excavated 1993. Finds included pottery, pot boilers and bronze rivetMHG13992
Coille GaireallachSkye410–350 BC  SUERC-33768Test pitting at roundhouse. Turf ringbank with central pit hearth. Compacted floor with lithics and pottery sherds.MHG59524 Wildgoose 2016, site LS10
Coille GaireallachSkye370–170 BCSUERC-33772Partial excavation at roundhouse 14m in diameter overlaying Late Bronze Age structure. Multi-period.MHG55550; Wildgoose 2016, site LS6
Coille GaireallachSkyeAD 80–240SUERC-33648Test pitting at roundhouse 11m external diameter, with two stone faces. Hearth in pit with iron slag, lithics, charcoal, pot boilers and pottery.MHG59525; Wildgoose 2016, site LS11
KilchristSkye360–271 BCGU-32932Test pitting at bank 12m in diameter, with stone facing on interior only. Dating from pit with charcoal and pot boilersMHG59768; Wildgoose 2016, site LS113
Table 7.6 Simple Highland roundhouses with dating evidence
All dates cal at 95.4% probability. For full details of dates, see Datasheet 2.1

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