MHG1144 - Broch, Dun Beath


Iron Age broch

Type and Period (1)

  • BROCH (BUILT -550; BUILT EARLY IRON AGE; , Early Iron Age - 550 BC to 1 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

Dunbeath, ND13SE0017
Brochs are round, tower-like houses, their monumental size intended to display the wealth and status of the agricultural communities who lived in them. They were occupied in the later Iron Age and occur frequently in north and west of Scotland. (41)
The well preserved broch at Dunbeath sits in a dramatic position on a triangular promontory of land formed by the confluence of the Dunbeath water and the Houstry Burn. It may be the only broch mentioned in a contemporary historical document, as the Annals of Ulster for 680 records the siege of Dun Beata. (54)
The remains of the broch itself are equally interesting, since it was cleared out by the late nineteenth century excavator. Almost opposite the entrance is the opening to a rectangular chamber within the thickness of the wall. This has a small cupboard at each side, below one of which is a flagstone shelf. (53)
Armit, I., 1997. Celtic Scotland. Edinburgh: Batsford.
Close-Brooks, J., 1995. Exploring Scotland’s Heritage. The Highlands. Edinburgh: HMSO, 148, No. 91.
RCAHMS. 1911. Caithness. Edinburgh: HMSO, 58, No. 215.
Information from SCRAN Project, March, 2000

This broch was consolidated in order to make structure safe for general public and to prevent any further damage to site from trees growing in middle of broch. The inner face of the wall was reduced and decayed stone removed, the corbelled roof of main intramural cell was rebuilt because of dangerous Victorian rebuild and entranceway was defined more clearly.
During consolidation several new features were revealed: a small niche was uncovered within entrance passage, presumed to be part of door structure; an alcove was revealed in W wall, apparently not part of a staircase or passage, but remained unexcavated because of presence of burnt bone and charcoal; an area of presumed collapsed wall was shown to be spoilheap from 1866 excavation. Plans and a full photographic record were made of site. Copies of these have been lodged with NMRS, HBM and the Dunbeath Preservation Trust.
I Banks 1990. <2>

No change. The entrance to chamber in back wall of broch has been crudely blocked off. There is no sign of outbuildings as such in SE, but there is the vague track of an old wall.
Visited by OS (JM) 11 November 1982.

Dun Beath (NAT) Broch (NR) OS 1:10,000 1979.

Dun Beath: A broch as described by RCAHMS. There are vague footings of outbuildings to SE.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (NKB) 5 March 1968.

The broch, which was excavated many years ago by Mr Thomson Sinclair of Dunbeath, is now enclosed within a tree-filled, walled enclosure. The entrance is from SE through a passage 14 ft in length and 3ft 6ins in width at its outer extremity. At 3 ft 10 ins inwards, passage expands to 4 ft, checks thus being formed on either side for a door, and 5 ft 6 ins beyond on the right hand side a slab set edgewise to the passage wall appears to mark position of a second door. Between these door checks on right has been the entrance to a guard chamber now broken down. The back wall of chamber is, however, still standing at 14 ft in from side of the passage. The internal diameter of broch is 27 ft. The entrance to and position of stair are not now recognisable. Slightly N of point directly opposite main entrance is an entrance 2 ft 4 ins wide, 2 ft 4 ins long and now 3 ft 3 ins high, giving access to an oblong and almost rectangular chamber measuring 8 ft in length, 6 ft in greatest width and 10 ft 2 ins in height from present floor level to apex of roof.
The greatest height of wall visible in interior is 13 ft. The wall thickness is 14 ft. At a height of about 6 ft 4 ins in interior, there is a scarcement about 1 ft in width. The greatest height of wall visible on exterior is 9 ft.
There was found on excavation on S side of interior a pit-like structure resembling a well, 4 or 5 ft in diameter.
The relics recovered consisted of deer horns, a section of an antler about 1 in long, chipped and ground at both ends; animal bones; fish bones and shells of edible molluscs; a piece of freestone thickly covered with indentations that had been produced by rubbing or grinding some kind of metal instrument edgewise upon it; several nodules of iron ore mixed with the animal remains, and also an iron 'spear-head' 5 ins in length. Close to wall and on clay bottom was discovered a quantity of burnt grain, viz. barley and oats.
RCAHMS 1911. <1>

This site was included in Mackie's 2007 'The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC - AD 500: Architecture and material culture'. See link below to HES Canmore record which includes the chapter on this site. <3>

Sources/Archives (22)



Grid reference Centred ND 1552 3043 (70m by 70m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND13SE
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (5)

  • ANVIL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS? (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ORGANIC MATERIAL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPEARHEAD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (2)

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