MHG1734 - Midden, Roberts Haven


No summary available.

Type and Period (3)

  • SETTLEMENT (Early Medieval to Medieval - 561 AD to 1559 AD)
  • MIDDEN (Undated)
  • BUILDING (Undated)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Site visit 1/7/2003 with Paul Humphreys who is monitoring this site for erosion and who has a collection of finds. On day of site visit pottery still being exposed + fish bone (samples collected & passed to Inverness Museum). On examination it is possible that two separate floor levels were visible in the section
HAW 7/2003

The existence of a Norse settlement is indicated by finding of grass-bound pottery and drystone structures at Robert's Haven (PSAS 1909; OS 6" map, annotated by J Close-Brooks, NMAS, 27 April 1977).
Sherds were discovered at ND 3890 7367 in 1973-4 by R Stephen-Murray, who donated them to NMAS1977-8. Drystone structures were noted at ND 3888 7359 in 1977.
During course of construction of a dipping tank at ND 3881 7352 further drystone structures were encountered, and a midden deposit which has eroded out in same vicinity produced more grass-bound pottery, as well as small finds, including an anvil stone and a stone polisher, in 1981.
Yet another drystone structure is known to exist at ND 3891 7353; and above beach at ND 3891 7361 are 3 mounds, 5ft in diameter and 3ft high, which are known locally as 'the lime kilns'. (nb.a tiny, unroofed, undescribed building is shown here on OS 6" map, Caithness, 1st ed., 1873.)
Exact find spots indicated by Mr Stephen-Murray (info from R Stephan-Murray to OS, 11 September 1981.)
Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1980; 1981; R Stephan-Murray 1981; Info contained in letters from R Stephan-Murray to OS, 22 June and 28 August 1981.

(ND 3891 7363) A Norse site, extending along about 40m of coast, bisected by a seasonal stream. One drystone structure was discernible, with extensive eroding midden deposits from which came numerous pottery sherds.
C E Batey, Caithness Coastal Survey, 1982

Immediately above foreshore at Robert's Haven there are 2 small areas of clearly evident settlement. The first is at ND 3876 7348, immediately N of sheep pens, where erosion has revealed traces of midden material and walling. The second area, at ND 3890 7358, is as described and illustrated by Batey.
The mounds noted at ND 3891 7361 were not certainly identified; mounds occuring about 80m N of second settlement may be ones referred to. They are small, sandy and turf-covered; whether they are entirely natural or covering a structure cannot be determined.
Visited by OS (J B) 7 May 1982.

ND 387 735. Pottery and iron objects of medieval and later date from Robert's Haven, John o' Groats, were donated to NMAS by R Stephan-Murray in 1981-2.
NMAS 1982.

June 1992 an archaeological sampling project began at Robert's Haven. Site was surveyed and 3 sample columns were excavated for detailed palaeoeconomic and environmental study. Augering was conducted along two transects to assess the survival of archaeological deposits between wave cut bank and ruined structure mentioned above. This intervening space, now gently sloping pasture, was extensively quarried for sand during 1940s and 1950s (M Houston, pers comm).
Work at wave cut bank focused on SW midden, a 25m long, c1m thick, deposit composed of thin lenses of fish bone and shell. Two 2m sections of midden were cleaned and drawn. A sample column 50cm by c75cm was then excavated within each of these 2m sections (columns A and B). All excavated material was retained for fine mesh seiving and soil analysis. Midden is tentatively dated to 13th or 14th century on basis of pottery (R Will, per comm).
SW midden deposits showed signs of rapid accumulation and little post-depositional disturbance. Entire fish fins and even patches of articulated scales remained intact. Articulated fish bones, particularly clusters of anterior vertebrae (those close to head), were present in 15 of 32 excavated contexts.
Fish bone dominates excavated bone assemblage (9.3427kg, 97.9%). Preliminary examination suggests cod (Gadus Morhua), ling (Molva molva) and saithe (Pollachius virens) are most common species. Shell was also very plentiful (9.0215kg). Mammal and bird bone are minor components of deposit (approx 0.17kg and 0.03kg respectively). The mammal bone consists of small fragments, many of which were burnt.
It is possible that SW midden represents waste from a semi-specialized fish processing station. However, a thorough consideration of site formation processes is necessary before confirming this hypothesis. Domestic rubbish, including pottery and carbonised cereal grain, is also ubiquitous in midden.
Auger transects failed to reveal cultural material between 'islands' of surviving archaeology at shore and surrounding the ruined structure (ND37SE 15). Past sand quarrying has probably removed any deposits which might once have existed. It is possible, however, that other archaeological 'islands' exist which were missed by 20m augering interval employed in study.
Post-excavation analyses of samples from Robert's Haven will continue into 1993. Possible future sampling will broaden in focus and investigate structural remains. Stone built rectilinear foundations are eroding from the wave cut bank. These vanishing features require attention.
J H Barrett 1992.

In 1993, three 50cm by c.75cm columns were excavated from two areas of coastal middens and palaeosols rich in fish bone and shall. These deposits may represent a fish-processing station.
J H Barrett 1993

Pottery sherds are listed in the NMS catalogue from Robert's Haven, found in 1980 and donated to the NMS in 1981. Two are rim sherds, described as having a coarse grey fabric with profuse organic tempering and an external dimpled surface (Acc. Nos. HR 1665- HR 1656). Eleven are body sherds of the same description (HR 1657).
Also listed in the NMS catalogue is an 11th century copper alloy zoomorphic mount, supposedly from Robert's Haven. Acc. No. 1996.276. <1>

Inverness Museum Archive files include a sketch of a bronze penannular brooch, found at Robert's Haven in April 1984. It has hatch decoration and part of one of the terminals is missing. It is presumed that it was found at, or within the vicinity of, this site. <2>

The zoomorphic mount was submitted to Treasure Trove (TT 25/96) and allocated to the NMS. In NMS paperwork from Treasure Trove, it is described as coming from an area where overburden of sand was breaking up revealing midden material with much shell, fishbone, stone and pot etc, in 1995. The approximate grid reference ND 38 73 is given, but this is a marginal grid reference and it is possible that it is from this midden. <3> <4>

Sources/Archives (11)



Grid reference Centred ND 3889 7360 (160m by 160m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND37SE
Civil Parish CANISBAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (3)

  • MOUNT (Norse - 800 AD to 1300 AD)
  • SHERD (Undated)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (1)

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