MHG1645 - Broch - Whitegate


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Type and Period (1)

  • BROCH (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD) + Sci.Date

Protected Status

Full Description

Whitegate, Keiss, ND36SE0003

ND36SE 3.00 3541 6120.
Whitegate Broch (NR) OS 1:10,000 map, (1973)

Whitegate Broch has an internal diameter of 26ft and a wall thickness of about 13ft. The wall remains to a height of about 3ft.
The slab settings in the central court and chamber in wall opposite the entrance are secondary, as also is series of outbuildings through which entrance is prolonged.
The finds from broch include grain-rubbers and rotary querns and fragments of a large jar of coarse, unglazed pottery from one of the internal, secondary structures. This has been reconstructed and is now in NMAS, as are finds from excavation by Sir Francis Tress Barry. Anderson notes remains of foundations of an oblong, rectangular building within a few yards of broch. This has been 45ft long by 24ft broad with dry-built walls about 4ft thick. This building seems to compare with the houses of the Viking settlement at Freswick (ND36NE 4), although as Childe points out, these were probably fore-runners of the 'black-house type', in which case the building might simply be one of these.
Probably similar buildings are also noted at Keiss Broch (ND36SE 20 and the Road Broch (ND36SW 1).
A Young 1964; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1893; 1909; J Anderson 1901; V G Childe 1943.

As described above and in a ruinous condition.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (R D) 14 September 1965.

Internal diameter c.8m, walls c.4m x 1m high. Located on the coastal pasture, 100m N of Keiss broch. Excavated by Tress Barry and now in a ruinous and overgrown condition. WIC 099.
C Batey, Caithness Coastal Survey 1981

Whitegate Broch is as described by the previous authorities; the excavation was never back-filled and the walling is still exposed. The dry-stone structures noted by Batey a short distance to the SW and NE of the broch form no intelligible pattern and their date and purpose remain uncertain.
Visited by OS (N K B) 22 July 1982

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)
Whitegate lies on a level beach terrace, very close to the broch known as the Harbour Mound. Yet another broch, known as the Road broch, lies further up the slope. All three brochs have complexes of buildings surrounding the tower and may have had quite large populations. (47)
Even though brochs in Caithness do occur close together, this group of three is exceptional, both for their closeness and for the complexity of the surrounding settlement. Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to be sure that all three were occupied at the one time. (46)
(c. 8m/11.8m)
Armit, I., 1997. Celtic Scotland. Edinburgh: Batsford.
RCAHMS. 1911. Caithness. Edinburgh: HMSO, 156-7, No. 516.
Information from SCRAN Project, March, 2000

As part of a wider study of Iron Age Caithness, sponsored by National Museums of Scotland (NMS), Whitegate was one of six broch settlements recorded by total station survey by AOC Archaeology in June 2000. Aspects of the artefactual assemblage uncovered during 19th-century excavations by Laing and Tress Barry were also studied.
DES 2000 p.50

The site is discussed in A. Heald and A. Jackson's 2001 PSAS article, which includes a list of finds from the site. See link below. <1>

As part of a wider study of Iron Age Caithness, four weeks of trial excavation were undertaken by National Museums of Scotland, AOC Archaeology Group and Nottingham University in July 2006 at the Atlantic roundhouse and outbuilding complex at Whitegate following on from a programme of survey. The site was first excavated by Sir Francis Tress Barry in 1892-3. He uncovered a number of structural types including a 'broch' or Atlantic roundhouse and numerous outbuildings. Finds were few but included human remains, amber beads and pottery. Recent work on other sites excavated by Tress Barry, particularly Tofts, Everley, has suggested that Barry may have left untouched archaeology on some of the Caithness sites and that reinvestigation was a worthwhile exercise. Trenches were confined to the roundhouse wall and interior and two of the outbuildings. A laser-scan survey was carried out by Dr Graeme Cavers.
DES 2006 p.104

Four further weeks of excavation by National Museums of Scotland, AOC Archaeology Group and Nottingham University of the Atlantic roundhouse and outbuilding complex took place in July 2007. Further trenches across the roundhouse wall, parts of the interior, outbuildings and ‘blank areas’ on the mound were excavated. Apart from recovering samples and artefacts from the various areas two main findings are of note. First, during excavation across one of the roundhouse walls a chamber was uncovered which contained extensive animal remains as well as some human remains. These were sent for radiocarbon dating. Second, excavation in the interior recovered a subterranean feature which was accessed by a series of steps. Although not as elaborate as examples from, for example Gurness, Orkney, the Whitegate find was of note. A prosaic explanation as a well may explain this enigmatic structure, but it could equally be associated with ceremonies or rituals.
DES 2007 pp.126-7

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'. There is not much that can be said about this probable broch, as the quality of the available information is so poor. One cannot even tell from the available description whether the building had an intra-mural stair; if it did it was either in Level 1 and not uncovered or higher up in Level 2 and no longer extant. Since most of the local brochs have stairs at ground level the former seems probable, but there is no way of knowing if one ever existed. If it did not Keiss North must have been a fairly low structure.

The finds such as they are could indicate a middle Iron Age occupation although the restored pot is of unusual interest and could be earlier. This is a well-known late Bronze Age style known as the Dunagoil vase, being a finer version of the larger and coarser Dunagoil urn. Local examples dated to the end of the Bronze Age were found not many miles away at Crosskirk (ND01 7). Whether this pot, which was clearly in use during the occupation of the broch ('It was found in excavating the interior …. in a multitude of fragments which lay in a group…'), indicates that the site is much earlier than the others nearby, or whether it means that the local ancient pottery style continued in use until the early first millennium AD, is not clear from the evidence available. The latter hypothesis should be preferred unless and until some other local massive roundhouse is clearly dated to the 8th-6th centuries BC. <2>

A third season of excavation was undertaken by National Museums of Scotland, AOC Archaeology Group and Nottingham University, in July 2008, which concentrated on the exterior area facing the sea. No traces of archaeology were visible prior to the excavation. Excavation revealed a possible enclosure wall, a burial and a drain leading to the roundhouse entrance.
DES 2008 p.118

A radiocarbon date was obtained for unburnt human bone found within the broch and submitted to the Oxford RAU by AOC Archaeology. This indicated an Iron Age date of AD 346-418, calibrated to 1 sigma and AD 259-432 calibrated to 2 sigma. <3>

The results of topographic and laser scanning surveys at the broch by AOC Archaeology Group were presented at the 2008 Computer Applications and Quantitative Methods in Archaeology (CAA) conference in Bucharest. <4>

A radiocarbon date was obtained for human skeletal material found in the interior, as part of the Human Remains from Iron Age Atlantic Scotland Dating Project 2009. This indicated an Iron Age date of 201-105 BC, calibrated to 1 sigma. <5>

The broch was scheduled by Historic Environment Scotland in 2016. <6> <7>

Finds in NMS from Tress Barry's excavations also include pottery, bone pin, bone points, human skull, spindle whorls, beads (one possibly amber) and stone discs. Acc. Nos. GA 601-GA 617. Acquired by the NMS in 1908. <8>

ND36SE 3.01 ND 3549 6121 Structure
ND36SE 3.02 ND 3545 6117 Structure

Sources/Archives (8)



Grid reference Centred ND 3542 6119 (35m by 38m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND36SE
Civil Parish WICK
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (10)

  • ROTARY QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • PIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • POINT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BEAD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • DISC (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • NEEDLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • GRAIN RUBBER (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (4)

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