7.3.5.3 Non-Circular Buildings

The excavation of a rectilinear house with an associated souterrain at Tungadal, Skye (MHG5106), suggests other building traditions may have been present in the Iron Age in the Highlands. The dates at the site have a wide range, but clearly indicate Iron Age activity (Miket 2002; Armit 1996); a full publication of this important site is desirable. Only further dating of other rectangular structures will provide a fuller context for this site. At Easter Galcantray, Nairn-shire (MHG5892), excavations of a rectangular structure without ancillary buildings by Barri Jones was interpreted in part based on a postulated Roman presence, though the evidence was ambiguous (Gregory 2001). Four-poster buildings were found in Culduthel, Inverness, but are undated (Hatherley and Murray 2021; Case Study: Culduthel Iron Age craftworking Site). Elsewhere these have been reconstructed as roundhouses, but they could also be square structures (Noble et al 2012).

Some Highland sARs such as Nybster broch, Caithness (MHG1593) and cARs such as Carn Liath, Sutherland (MHG19872) have cellular buildings that are located around the large central stone-built roundhouse. These ‘broch villages’ appear to be an east coast preference and are also found on Orkney and Shetland. Only at Nybster broch in Caithness is good dating for these structures available for the Highlands. Radiocarbon dating on the site shows that the ‘broch village’ type structures were occupied in the early centuries AD, at the same time as the large roundhouse (Heald and Cavers 2012; Case Study Nybster broch). The contemporary occupation of large and small houses is rare evidence of social hierarchies in Iron Age settlements (ScARF Iron Age sections 6.2, 6.3). Whether this is true for other broch villages remains to be tested. It is also unknown as to how long the use of these sites continues into the early medieval period.

At Upper Suisgill, Sutherland (MHG4183), postholes belonging to a structure of probably Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age date were interpreted by the excavator as being from a different phase to the roundhouses (Barclay 1985, 194–196), but the exact details were confused by multiple buildings, and the dating is quite old.

Aisled structures, known as wags, often oblong in shape and attached to roundhouses, have been found in a number of locations in Caithness (Heald and Barber 2015, 122–126). Precise dating evidence is lacking, though these structures are often suggested to post-date brochs, mainly based on the identification of wags which overlay the broch at Yarrows (MHG1937). Their function and dating remain enigmatic. Recent work at Wag of Forse (MHG2404) by Gordon Noble will hopefully shed more light on these issues.

Aerial view of Wag of Forse, Caithness. ©HES

Although wheelhouses (roundhouses in which the roof was supported by internal radially placed stone piers) were built in the Iron Age (Armit 2006) in the Western Isles, and have been argued to have replaced brochs (Barber 2017), only three possible examples have been suggested for the Highlands. A small, well-preserved inland stone-built example at Tigh na Fiamain near Durness, northwest Sutherland (MHG11958) has free standing orthostats not radial walls, and there is a suggestion of more recent rebuilding and clearance. It may relate more to the tradition of wags to the east (MacKie 2007). Heavily robbed examples at Berriedale Water, Caithness (MHG1624) have also been identified as wags or wheelhouses, but present condition does not allow any further conclusions. More promising is a structure identified at Ob Na Leobag, Skye (MHG9253), but it has received little attention since its discovery in the 1980s.

 

Case Study: Nybster broch

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