MHG13495 - Promontory fort - Crosskirk Bay


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Type and Period (1)

  • PROMONTORY FORT (Early Iron Age - 475 BC? to 385 BC?)

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Full Description

Excavations by H Fairhurst in 1966 and 1969-72 at Crosskirk Broch found the unexpected remains of what may have been the defences of a pre-broch promontory fort.

The structural sequence begins at Crosskirk with a length of clay-cored wall across the E part of the neck of the promontory. Through the wall, there was a gateway widening outwards, with a well-laid pavement and a drain underneath. W of the gateway, there was a cell-like structure within the rampart, resembling the corbelled wall-chamber in a broch, and beyond that was a recess in the inner face of the wall. Immediately outside, the ground level was interrupted by two natural hollows somewhat deepened artificially, which merged westwards. With rising bedrock, the wall became more of a terrace-like feature overlooking the shallow ditch, and that in turn passed into a line of flagstones on end, reaching to the cliff at Chapel Geo. The gateway section of the rampart, with the nearby cell, formed a stout defence to the headland and was somewhat suggestive of broch walling, but it was incomplete in itself. Any comparison with the 'Forework' at Clickhimin, the Ness of Burgi or the Loch of Huxter, may be premature, but the same lack of a continuous defensive wall there is obvious. It might be that there was some counterpart on these sites to the row of upright flagstones at Crosskirk. If the period of the fifth-fourth century bc was indicated by the radiocarbon date of 2380 bp ±45 (430 bc), the defences would be rather later than the period suggested for some of the timber-laced forts in Scotland, but somewhat earlier than the currently accepted date around 300 BC for stone-walled fortifications generally. This date at Crosskirk would also apply to the coarsely decorated pottery found deep in the wall cell by the gateway and in the recess. While resort to the rocky headland which in itself formed a natural fortress might have begun as early as the first half of the first millennium BC, the promontory fort was sufficiently substantial to indicate that it was at least used regularly in times of danger. Evidence of occupation within the defences, however, was so vague that nothing can be certain, and the absence of the pre-broch pottery on the site generally seems to emphasise the lack of continuous occupation at this early stage. The entire headland was not investigated however, and erosion from the sea may well have reduced the area of occupation available in prehistoric times. <1>

Scheduled as part of broch area and with adjacent chapel by Historic Scotland in 1995
Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 30 June 1995.

Finds from the the excavation at Crosskirk are in the Hunterian Museum and are listed in their online catalogue (Acc. No. GLAHM:A.1979.3-501). These comprise some 500 finds. See link below. <2>

The broch is included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. <3> See link below for site entry.

Sources/Archives (3)



Grid reference Centred ND 0249 7013 (77m by 53m)
Map sheet ND07SW
Civil Parish REAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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Related Investigations/Events (2)

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