Norse Areas in the North and East

Curle’s (1939) excavations at Freswick in the 1930s and Childe’s in the 1940s provide the best published example of Norse buildings in the Highlands, although the stratigraphy is complex, with evidence of rebuilding. Batey (1982; 1987) has reanalysed the material and records from these excavations. One of the buildings was constructed of stone walls with earth cores, with a long hearth, another appears to have been aisled. Deep midden deposits survive, and further survey and excavation by Colleen Batey and Chris Morris elsewhere on the links provided evidence of activity if not buildings in this period (Curle 1939; Morris et al 1995, 268ff; Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998, 196ff; Case Study Freswick Links).

At Brotchie’s Steading, Caithness, the deep stratigraphic occupation layers shows activity in 13th or 14th century, but there are no associated structures. On top of this occupation layer the first walls of a stone croft house were excavated. This is the first of four phases of rebuilding on the site, but it not certain if the earliest stone building dates to the medieval period or later (Holden et al 2008, 276, 289; Case Study Brotchie’s Steading).

The excavations at Borralie, northwest Sutherland also found structural evidence but final excavation reports with details are still awaited. The sites were chosen after a detailed survey of the area, combined with information of finds collected over the years, which suggested potential wealthy settlements at this period. Two bow-sided buildings were excavated, one underlying later 18th century buildings. Deep midden deposits with fish and animal bones were uncovered, as well as some pottery (MHG48619; Lelong and Gazin-Swartz 2006).

The excavation of a medieval structure at Borralie, Sutherland. ©GUARD Archaeology

Nearby, the Smoo cave complex certainly had activity in the early medieval period and early centuries of the medieval period. This does not appear to have been full time occupation (there was little pottery or other domestic artefacts), but perhaps a base for fishing trips or even specialised use. There were boat rivets found, but they may have come from boat timbers used for firewood. Grain processing was occurring in the caves in the later Norse period, suggesting this may represent a staging point for nearby settlement (Pollard 2005, 44–45). 

FreswickCStructures by artefacts. Midden dates 11th–14th centuryExtensive environmental evidenceCurle 1939; Morris et al 1995, 268ff;Graham-Campbell & Batey 1998, 196ff; Case Study: Freswick Links
DunnetCartefactsMidden and wallsMHG22344; Pollard 1996a
Roberts HavenCartefactsMidden. Unstratified building nearby. Large quantities of fish bonesMHG1734; Morris et al 1994; Simpson and Barrett 1996
Brotchie’s SteadingCAD 1220–1390Deep occupation layer with Medieval redware.MHG46260; Holden et al 2008; Case Study; Brotchies Steading
BallachlyCAD 1010–1160
AD 1260–1390
Possible building activity at chapel siteMHG1145; Laing et al 2013, 296-7. SUERC-21062; SUERC-21063
Kilearnan HillSAD 1300–1490Hearth built on prehistoric burnt mound. No obvious structureMHG9986; McIntyre 1998; SUERC-1915
Glassknapper CaveNWSAD 890–1160Cave, with midden material. Nearby Smoo cave also possibly with layers dating to medieval periodMHG29934; Pollard 2005; OxA-8210
SangobegNWSPotteryStone walling, hearth eroding from dunes, midden, fish bones. Overlies Iron Age burialMHG29877; Brady et al 2007
BorralieNWSPotteryExcavation of two bow-sided buildings with middensMHG48619; Lelong & Gazin-Schwartz 2006
Table 9.1 Settlements and occupation in the Norse areas (excluding castles) with dating evidence All radiocarbon dates cal at 95.4% probability.
For full details of dates, see Datasheet 2.1


Case Study: Freswick Links

Case Study: Brotchie’s Steading

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