MHG1659 - Keiss Harbour Broch


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Type and Period (1)

  • BROCH (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

Harbour Mound, Keiss, ND36SE0002

Keiss Broch originated as 1st phase broch - 1st centuries BC and AD - and was subsequently modified and re-used about 2nd century AD, and again about the 3rd century AD. 2nd century re-occupation involved blocking of original seaward-facing entrance and creation of another on NE. 3rd phase of occupation involved rebuilding of outer wall, blocking of NE entrance and re-opening of original entrance, also building of an internal scarcement. During this phase, or possibly later, interior of broch was divided by slab structures and paved at varying levels, while externally various sprawling enclosures were created. In 1910, the broch wall survived internally to a height of about 5ft, the height of scarcement, except on N where it stood 8ft high. On the exterior the maximum height was 5ft 6ins. Excavation by Sir Francis Tress Barry produced, among more usual broch finds, two fragments of 2nd century Samian ware and sherd of 3rd century Rhenish ware. Finds, which were unstratified, are in NMAS.
Feachem (1963) notes remains of what might have been a primary outwork a short distance to NE of broch. Anderson notes the foundations of a large rectangular building a little to S of the broch. This is probably analagous to those at the 'Road Broch' (ND36SW 1) and 'Whitegate Broch' (ND36SE 3).
A Young 1964; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; R W Feachem 1963; J Anderson 1901.

ND36SE 2 3531 6108.

This broch has been severely mutilated, and seaward entrance is no longer apparent although entrance on NE can still be traced. The internal scarcement and the rebuilt outer wall are evident only in N segment, and southern gallery can still be traced with a possible cell alongside, together with the remains of several internal structures, the form of which could not be ascertained. The external enclosures are now greatly mutilated. Midden material is evident in and around the walls. No trace could be found of the primary outwork to the NE, mentioned by Feacham. Now in an undulating pasture field. The foundations of building mentioned by Anderson appear to be relatively modern.
Resurveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (R D) 14 September 1965.

Classification of Roman material. A S Robertson 1970.

Keiss Broch (NR) OS 1:10,000 map, (1973)

Keiss Broch is as described by the previous field investigator.
Visited by OS (N K B) 22 July 1982.

The results from the late nineteenth century excavation of this broch suggest that it was rebuilt on several occasions. The original seaward facing entrance, with its huge triangular lintel, was blocked and replaced by another one. However in the last phase of use, the outer wall was rebuilt, the second entrance blocked and the first one re-opened. (57)
The inside of the broch had a sequence of paved floors, on top of which a layer of rubbish had built up, before the next floor was laid. Overall, the rubbish from the occupation of the broch, was 2.1m deep. It included two sherds of second century AD Roman pottery, which was probably made in France. (56)
Armit, I., 1997. Celtic Scotland. Edinburgh: Batsford.
RCAHMS. 1911. Caithness. Edinburgh: HMSO, 154-5, No. 515.
Information from SCRAN Project, March, 2000

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

A single evaulation trench was excavated across the wall of the Keiss Harbour broch in July 2006. The trench measured 8.75m long by between 1-3m wide, and encompassed both the interior and exterior of the broch. A secondary wall was revealed on the interior. No internal or external surviving in situ deposits were found.
A Duffy 2006

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'. <3>

Finds: rim fragment of blue-green glass, possibly re-used cylindrical or prismatic bottle (AD 43-250), cylindrical glass bead, glass ring; 3 fragments of Samian ware Dragendorff 37 (1st c date), possibly re-used; fragment of plain samian vessel (2nd c date); 3 fragements of Lower Nene valley colour-coat pottery (3rd c date). <4>

The broch was Scheduled by Historic Environment Scotland in 2016. <5>

A long handled antler comb from the site (Acc. No GA 450) was radiocarbon dated in 2008, but only published in 2017 as part of the National Museum of Scotland's radiocarbon dating program of items from their collections. This indicated a date of AD 410-564, calibrated to 2 sigma. <6>

Finds from Samel Laing's excavation were aquired by the NMS in 1865 (Acc. Nos. GJ 1- GJ 116). Finds from Sir Francis Tress Barry excavation were acquired in 1908 (Acc. Nos. GA 450- GA 529). These finds are described only as 'from Keiss, Caithness' and it is therefore possible that they could be from other Keiss Broch sites (Keiss Road and Whitegate Broch). Since finds from Barry's excavation at these other sites, also acquired 1908, include the name of the sites however, it is likely that 'Keiss, Caithness' is referring specifically to Keiss Broch (also known as Keiss Harbour Broch) and that these finds are from this site. <7>

The NMS contains human remains (a child's mandible with teeth) in their collections. This mandible was from Samuel Laing's 1865 excavation assemblage, and is listed under Acc. No. GJ 84. The mandible is illustrated in PSAS vol.7 (1866-68), page 46. <8> <9>

Sources/Archives (17)



Grid reference Centred ND 3531 6107 (51m by 52m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND36SE
Civil Parish WICK
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (30)

  • QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WEAVING COMB (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SHERD (Roman - 79 AD to 409 AD)
  • BEAD (Roman - 79 AD to 409 AD)
  • PIN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SHEARS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WEAVING TABLET (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BRIDLE FITTING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SCRAPER (TOOL)? (Undated)
  • WHETSTONE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • POINT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • AWL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • RING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • RING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ARMLET (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • CRUCIBLE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • GAMING PIECE? (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BURNISHER (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • LAMP (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • CUP (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • DISC (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • POLISHER (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPEARHEAD? (Undated)
  • KNIFE? (Undated)
  • SHERD (Roman - 79 AD to 409 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (3)

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