MHG2404 - Wag of Forse, settlement 800m WSW of Forse House


No summary available.

Type and Period (4)

  • DUN (Late Iron Age - 2 AD to 560 AD)
  • WAG (Late Iron Age - 2 AD to 560 AD)
  • SETTLEMENT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUT CIRCLE (Iron Age - 550 BC? to 560 AD) + Sci.Date

Protected Status

Full Description

Dun and Settlement (NR) OS 1:10,000 map, (1976)

Wag of Forse: An Iron Age site with successive periods of occupation including a dun (Young 1964; MacKie 1965) and wags, apparently only part of complex which extends along E edge of a rocky outcrop. It was partly excavated by Curle (1941; 1948) in 1939 and 1946-8.
The sequence of occupation appears to consist of huts of 3 periods, overlaid by a dun, which was succeeded and partly destroyed by wags, both elongated and round. The site is partly bounded by a turf wall on substantial stone base with, at least on W, an external, V-shaped ditch, the period of which is unknown.
MacKie (1965) likens the dun, with its massive double entrance to the pre-broch gatehouse forts of Shetland. It measures 47ft in internal diameter within a wall 4 to 5ft thick, rising from a heavy scarcement. Just inside entrance a flight of stairs leads off to the ruined wall-head (recalling entrances to some of the Caithness brochs, including that at Yarrows - ND34SW 1).
Excavation finds, most of which were donated to NMAS, included several saddle-querns but only one, broken, rotary quern. From the original hearth in hut 'C' (see plan) came a pot with LBA-EIA parallels (1965). The most sophisticated pottery came from a small round wag, not shown on plan, in area 'H'. No metal was noted. <1> <2> <3> <4> <5>

The site was Scheduled in 1934.

A partially excavated Iron Age occupation site, consisting of a dun and galleried dwellings, as described and illustrated by Curle. Excavated material overlies some of the dwellings and the outer turf-covered wall, rendering their identification virtually impossible.
There are undoubtedly more huts beneath the tumble, and also to S (see ND34SW 7 and 12) where numerous large slabs protrude through the turf. There was an associated field system, evidenced by a low bank running from the outer rampart, but this has been destroyed by much later field walls and cultivation, and cannot be accurately determined. Resurveyed at 1:2500.
Visited by OS (N K B) 11 May 1967.

If the primary structure is a dun it is unique although stair in the entrance section has analogies in the Keiss brochs (ND36SE2 & 3).
The secondary longhouses are unusual in the British Iron Age but may bear comparison with the wooden longhouses with internal rows of roof-posts of northern European Iron Age. It is quite possible that at Forse we have a rare fragment of evidence for the arrival in NE Scotland of prehistoric settlers direct from the continent, an influx of people who may have laid the foundations of the Pictish nation of proto-historic times. Certainly the dun appears to be earlier than the Caithness brochs and to have contributed some elements of its architecture to them. <6>

The entrance block in the circular ring-fort differs from that of the blockhouse forts in that the structure does not project forwards beyond the curve of the wall, which externally it does not interrupt, and it is of one build with the wall. <7>

No change to previous reports except that the protruding slabs noted to S by the previous field investigator do not appear to have any archaeological significance.
Visited by OS (J M) 24 March 1983.

Classified by Close-Brooks as broch and settlement. <8>

As a PhD thesis submitted to Glasgow University in 1999, A Baines attempted to produce a contextual reassessement of the archaeological information derived from the excavations at the site. Perhaps the most fundamental result of this process has been the elucidation of a revised sequence of occupation, which differed markedly from that advanced by A. O. Curle (1941, 1946, 1948). The initial occupation at Forse, or at least the earliest for which there is extant evidence, appears to have consisted of at least two phases of superimposed sub circular domestic buildings, the uppermost of which was internally drained and contained what appears to have been a cooking trough. The outer boundary of the site can be seen to enclose all of the known structural traces, and Baines therefore suggested that it represented an early feature which was probably in use during the earliest known phase of activity. He considered it difficult to interpret this early occupation further, given that its traces were fragmentary and somewhat ephemeral.

These sub-circular structures were superseded during the middle Iron Age (more precise dating was impossible due to the paucity of good chronological evidence) by a broch, which continued to make use of the outer boundary of the site, as at least one entrance passed through this to give access to the broch itself. Baines considerded it impossible to make any definite statement as to the presence of contemporary surrounding buildings, common at Caithness broch sites, as the remains of later settlement overlay most of the area outside the broch itself. It was likely, however, that while the broch outer wall was still in use the first of a series of three sub-rectangular aisled buildings, together with an adjoining sub-circular house, was constructed within the southern area of the site, and that this was later overlain by a further aisled building and two more adjoining houses although the first of the sub-circular buildings continued in use. This area of the site was remarkable for its complex series of structural modifications, and must have been in occupation for a considerable period of time. Baines suggested that the latest aisled building to built on the site was quite deliberately intruded into the structure of the broch itself. Although there was no clear stratigraphic correlation between it and the other aisled buildings, the fact that the latter were built against the broch outer wall indicates that the broch may still have been in use when they were constructed.

The final occupation on the site consisted of two interconnected cellular houses built up against the broch wall within its north-eastern arc, together with an enclosure or yard, defined by a wall built from robbed stone across the surviving northern part of the broch interior. These structures may date to the later first millennium AD. <9>

The site is discussed by A.C.W. Baines in an article on archaeology and architecture in the later Iron Age of Northern Scotland published in Papers presented to Keith Blood by the Northumberland Archaeology Group in 1999. <10>

The site is included in a published discussion on domestic architecture in later prehistoric Sutherland and Caithness by D Cowley and published in Papers presented to Keith Blood by the Northumberland Archaeology Group in 1999. <11>

Re-scheduled 2/2003 - see info in secondary file - HAW 4/2003

The site was included by E. Mackie in his published corpus of roundhouses, brochs and wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland:

The rarity of this complex site makes it difficult to suggest plausible affinities for the circular building, or to offer a guess at its age better than ‘Iron Age’. The way in which the exploration was conducted precludes much in the way of reliable inference about its function; the idea of a cattlefold seems inherently improbable because of the narrowness of the passage (76cm) and also because a formal stone door-frame built into the passage seems excessive for animals, even if they could have been squeezed down the passage (of course Iron Age cattle were smaller than their modern counterparts). Some kind of defensive stronghold, or dún, seems more likely, and the lengthened entrance passage surely supports this idea (as it argues against the cattlefold theory). The stairs leading from the entrance to the wallhead should be for a watchman and the narrow chamber, or guard cell, opposite its foot also suggests defence. On the other hand the later rectangular stone longhouses were surely for domestic purposes and the dun (if it was such) had presumably ceased to be needed for defence by the time they were erected around it.

The fact that the finds are without precise contexts also hinders the interpretation of the site. A few of them suggest that the site continued in use until the broch period in Caithness; the rotary quern in particular favours this dating, as does the whorl or bead made from a human femur head, a typical broch artifact. Likewise the fine jar sherd with an everted rim suggests the same. However some of the other material recalls the simple early Iron Age (even late Bronze Age) material culture of the mainland hillforts further south. The jet armlets are a case in point as also is the 'cooking pot' found on one of the hearths.

These last are examples of the characteristic Dunagoil vase, with a slightly turned-out rim with a row of shallow finger-impressions immediately below it, which was found in the late Bronze Age levels at Crosskirk (ND07 2) and at Sheep Hill in West Dunbartonshire. In the light of this pot, and also because of the absence of any broch-like architectural features, it seems reasonable to suggest that the site at Forse was established in the early Iron Age and perhaps continued in occupation until the early broch period. Evidence for this at two Caithness brochs – Yarrows and Keiss North – has been described and is reviewed again below (ND34 17 and ND36 5). In essence it consists of the presence in these two sites of what appears to be a primary intra-mural stair rising from one side of the entrance passage. This feature is otherwise unknown in brochs and could be reason-ably explained by the example nearby in the older dun at Forse. Other potsherds from the site are indistinguishable from Caithness/Orkney broch jars and imply a middle Iron Age occupation. <12>

Radiocarbon dates were obtained from human skeletal material buried below the entrance of a roundhouse, as part of the Human Remains from Iron Age Atlantic Scotland Dating Project 2009. These indicated Late Iron Age dates of 250-340 AD and 210-260 AD, calibrated to 1 sigma. <13>

The NMS catalogues lists pottery sherds, rubbers, hammerstones, whorls, rings (jet and sandstone) slag, bracelets (cannel coal), worked bone, human bone, a flint flake, an ochre nodule, a saddle quern, pot lids, a disc, worked stone, cobbles and a pebble from Forse. Listed under Acc. Nos. HD 710- HD721, HD 770- HD 816, HD 824, HD 818-HD 823, HD 825-HD 832, HD 832 A- F. <14>

The human remains are within NMS collections. <15>

Several of the objects from the NMS have been loaned to Dunbeath Heritage Centre and are on display there. These include the stone palette, spindle whorls, a cannel coal bangle, a cooking pot, plain and decorated pottery, slag, cannel coal armlet fragments, a stone bead, half a quern and a pot lid (Acc. Nos. HD 714, 716-19, 780, 790, 803, 806- 808, 812, 817-818, 824, 828-830). <16>

Trial trenching was undertaken at the site by The University of Aberdeen under the direction of G Noble in 2019. Scheduled Monument Consent had been obtained for limited excavation to assess what remained from Curle’s excavations at the site. Two trenches were hand excavated. Trench 1 was located in the northwestern half of aisled building/wag, Structure A. Two small cut features and the hearth recorded by Curle was identified. The hearth had been left in situ (or portions of it) and possible relic floor deposits were found around the hearth on its west side and in the northeast corner of the building. Trench 2 was located in the southern half of Structure C. Under the overburden the in situ central hearth recorded by Curle survived in situ along with floor layers extending to the south. There appeared to have been only minimal intervention by Curle into the floor layers. Both trenches suggested that very significant in-situ deposits survived at the site. It was intended that additional work, also requiring Scheduled Monument Consent from HES, would be carried out the following year. <17>

Sources/Archives (29)



Grid reference Centred ND 2048 3517 (113m by 170m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND23NW
Civil Parish LATHERON
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (12)

  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC? to 560 AD?)
  • SADDLE QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HAMMERSTONE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • HUMAN REMAINS (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • ARMLET (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • GRAIN RUBBER (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • SLAG (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • RING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • WORKED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • DISC (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • FLAKE (Iron Age - 550 BC? to 560 AD?)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (5)

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