MHG1053 - Broch and associated settlement - Crosskirk


A multi-period promontory site with broch plus contemporary and post-broch settlement comprising a possible souterrain and possible dwelling, stalled (wheel house?), with burials (two long cisted and one crouched inhumations).

Type and Period (3)

  • BROCH (Early Iron Age to Roman - 200 BC? to 200 AD?)
  • SETTLEMENT (Early Iron Age to Roman - 200 BC? to 200 AD?)
  • SOUTERRAIN (Early Iron Age to Roman - 200 BC? to 200 AD?)

Protected Status

Full Description

A multi-period promontory site with broch plus contemporary and post-broch settlement comprising a possible souterrain and possible dwelling, stalled (wheel house?), with burials (two long cisted and one crouched inhumations). Finds date the settlement from the Iron Age into the Pictish and possibly post-Pictish periods. The site was excavated ahead of projected coastal erosion in 1966 and 1969-72 and then back-filled and levelled. A cairn marks the site of the broch, though it was Scheduled with the adjacent chapel to the south in 1995.

(ND 0248 7112) Broch (NR) (rems of) OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

At the edge of the rocks about 30 yards to the N. of the ruined church of St Mary's, Lybster, are the remains of a large broch. The structure has been broken into a small extent on the S., from which direction the entrance appears to have been. The interior diameter is not accurately ascertainable without excavation, but has been approximately 30' to 32'. The thickness of the wall is some 6' above the ground level on the exterior and 5' on the interior. On the left of the position of the entrance the sides of a chamber are visible in the wall. On the exterior, at the edge of a cliff, for a distance of some 20', a portion of wall, about 10' from the broch, are the remains of an outer bank or wall now some 8' wide at base. The symbol stone, said to have been found in this broch, is illustrated in 'The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland', pt.111.p.30.
RCAHMS 1911; H Dryden 1871 (Soc of Antiqs Ms No. 21)

A rectangular symbol stone, 2ft 3ins high and 2ft 2ins wide, a facsimile of which is at Thurso Castle, is said to have been found at this broch and to have been given to the King of Denmark by Sir George Sinclair. (see MHG39524)
J R Allen and J Anderson 1903; J Stuart 1856.

This broch survives as a grass-covered circular enclosure, 1.1m max height internally. Traces of the outer wall face, 1.5m max height, are exposed in the SW, and in the N where the cliff edge has eroded. There thickness of the wall is 5.5m. There is no evidence of the original entrance but it may have been in the S where the feature has been mutilated by excavation. Around the E periphery of the broch there is a shallow depression, and on SW side a bank, 0.5m max height, may have formed part of the outer defences.
No further info could be found regarding symbol stone found here.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (N K B) 28 October 1964.

The remains of this broch, unsafe through coastal erosion, was excavated by H Fairhurst and D Taylor in 1966 and 1969 to 1972 on behalf of DoE, before being demolished, earthed over and seeded with grass. Excavation revealed evidence of a secondary settlement within an outwork on E, and an extension of the entrance passage east-wards, part of which was converted, in the last stages of occupation, into a souterrain. The outwork commenced in E in front of broch entrance, as a wall 15' thick with an earth core. Further to the W where bedrock came near the surface, the outwork continued as a terrace-like feature with a 'cell-like' structure behind. In front was a ditch, largely natural, which was 3m deep. In the extreme W a fence of flag-stones seems to have completed the defences. One of the final episodes in occupation of the site was a burial in the centre of a roughly circular dwelling. The body had been placed in a sitting position and was unaccompanied by grave-goods. As well as native pottery, bonework, querns, etc., finds included 2nd century Samian and a fragment of possibly Roman glass, now in NMAS.
H Fairhurst, D B Taylor and A Morrison 1966; H Fairhurst 1969; H Fairhurst and D B Taylor 1970; 1971; 1972.

Bronze spiral finger-rings. E W MacKie 1971

Evidence of occupation as late as the 8th century was found during the excavations. E W MacKie 1975.

This broch was excavated by Dr H Fairhurst and Mr D Taylor between 1966 and 1972. The wall survived to a max height of about 2m internally, and contained a rock-cut well. A rock-cut ditch encircled tower, and the area between ditch and broch was fully occupied by secondary domestic structures. At conclusion of the excavation broch was bulldozed over edge of cliff, and nothing remains of it or the outworks apart from some walling in the cliff face. A modern cairn marks the site.
A full excavation report is pending.
Visited by OS (N K B) 13 November 1981; Info R B Gourlay, Highland Region Archaeologist.

The excavation of the site was fully published as a Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph in 1984. In plan, the broch fitted the normal Caithness pattern with a thick wall and no ground level gallery, but the entrance passage (with its associated guard cell), the intra-mural cell and the stair entry were all crowded together into one third of the perimeter. There was no evidence either of a scarcement or of a gallery which could have been expected at the height attained by the inner wall face and the highest parts of the wall as a whole. Inside the broch, a radial pattern was traceable amid the paving slabs of the earliest floor, marking the position of what had been upright flagstones. There was a central hearth, several slab-sided boxes and a rock-cut well close to the stair entry. The rubbish indicated domestic occupation from the beginning, but considerable alterations in the layout had been made during what appears to have been a long occupation. Partly the changes were due to a major collapse of the inner wall face which blocked the entrance of the intra-mural cell. At a late period, the interior was re-organized around a new central hearth. The presence of samian sherds suggests a date in the second century AD for this re-organization.

The broch wall proved to be very unstable. In one short sector it had been breached and robbed down to the foundation slabs, but elsewhere it reached a height of as much as four to five metres, preserved by its own debris. Instability was largely due to structural defects as the core between the original facings of sandstone slabs consisted of earth, stone, boulders and even domestic refuse. Extensive collapse of the wall faces had occurred repeatedly during the occupation, especially along the outer face. This had been shored up by a supporting "skin" of carefully laid slabs, in which two or even three phases of repair could be recognized. The external settlement was not completey examined. Trenching showed that buildings were confined to the headland E to the cliff and S to the wall of the pre-broch fort. Owing to the scale of operations involved, excavation was concentrated on the area nearest to the broch and a good third of the area is untouched. Superimposition of dry-stone walling, earth floors and pavements indicated four or five phases of quite major reconstruction, but the precise lay-out at any one period was difficult to determine. At an early stage in the excavations in the settlement, an extraordinary passage was found to project from the broch entrance as far as an area of paving beyond the entrance in the pre-broch wall, a distance of some twenty metres. This passage had been extended in at least three periods. In its final form, dated to the second century AD, it can have had no military significance whatsoever. The general appearance and some minor features suggested a souterrain. Underneath, older domestic enclosures, extending up to the broch wall, were examined. In an oval building E of the broch, an aged cripple had been buried in a sitting position beside a hearth.

The broch itself was becoming ruinous before the late reconstructions in the settlement, and over the centuries it became a cairn-like mound formed of its own debris. A Pictish symbol stone has been reported from Crosskirk, but the only evidence from the site at that period seems to consist of two long-cist burials overlying the remains of the settlement.

Judged by some broch sites, the artifacts recovered were not abundant in view of the scale of the operations, although the collection is fully representative of the earlier broch period. The bronzes were badly corroded but included several pins, fragments of spiral finger rings and part of a small bowl. Iron slag was encountered but no iron tools. Several beads were found and a pendant of amber. A stone lamp was recorded as well as a painted pebble and a stone ball. Both saddle- and rotary-querns were recovered, but the latter type was more commonly represented. Apart from a broken toilet comb, the bonework was of no particular merit though it was well preserved. The local pottery occurred in quantity and a marked change in fabric took place in the later broch period.

Specialist reports indicate that cattle, sheep and pigs were reared, that shell-fish were collected in quantity, and that barley was grown. Other contributions to diet came from fowling, fishing and the collection of wild produce. Other reports deal with the human skeletal material, and the significance of the set of radiocarbon dates from the site.

In the writer's opinion, taking into account the structural evidence and the sequence of radiocarbon dates, the Crosskirk broch is probably an early example of the type. It did not attain the height of the tower-like brochs such as Mousa. A date around 200 BC is suggested tentatively for its construction. <1>

The site of the broch and its surroundings were Scheduled with the adjacent chapel and burial ground to the south (see MHG373 and MHG39323) with effect from 26/06/1995 by Historic Scotland.
Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 30 June 1995.

Class I symbol stone (lost) showed a crescent and V-rod and a horseshoe.
A.Mack 1997 p.141

Two radiocarbon dates were obtained and published as part of the Human Remains from Iron Age Atlantic Scotland Dating Project 2009. These indicated Late Iron Age/Pictish dates of 210-260 AD and 340-440 AD, calibrated to 1 sigma. <2>

A radiocarbon date from an adult female bone from burial 1 at this site was obtained and published in 2016 for the GENSCOT Ancient DNA project. This indicated a Pictish date of 595-644 AD, calibrated to 1 sigma. <3>

The broch is included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. See link below for site entry.<4>

(See link below to the Scottish Radiocarbon Database for selected radiocarbon dates)

Finds from the the excavation at Crosskirk are in the Hunterian Museum and are listed in their online catalogue. These comprise some 500 finds. See link below. <5>

There are finds from Crosskirk Broch listed in the Caithness Horizons accession catalogue. These include pottery sherds. <6>

Note; Research by David Henry of Pinkfoot Press indicates that the symbol stone, now lost, was perhaps incorrectly claimed to have been discovered at Crosskirk broch and was possibly discovered at the site of a broch near Sibster, Halkirk. During removal of this broch in 1841, a sculptured stone was found. The stone was removed by a gentleman residing at Thurso Castle.
Name Book 1872. <5>
See MHG39853 and link to Pictish Art Society newsletter no 73 p.10,11 for review of research talk. Published paper pending. (T.Blackie 22/11/23).

Sources/Archives (195)



Grid reference Centred ND 0249 7012 (35m by 33m)
Map sheet ND07SW
Civil Parish REAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (31)

  • SADDLE QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • FINGER RING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • VESSEL (Undated)
  • SHERD (Roman - 79 AD to 409 AD)
  • UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC? to 560 AD?)
  • PIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SLAG (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD?)
  • CRUCIBLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BEAD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BRACELET (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • COMB (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • NEEDLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • PIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • AWL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPATULA (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • TOGGLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • GAMING PIECE? (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT? (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ROTARY QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • FLAKE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • STONE BALL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • LAMP (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WHETSTONE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • DISC (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WEIGHT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • POUNDER (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Early Iron Age to Early Medieval - 550 BC to 1057 AD)
  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (6)

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