MHG412 - Monastic Settlement, Kirk Stones
Site of possible monastic settlement. Some uncertainty regarding this interpretation remains.
Type and Period (1)
- MONASTIC SETTLEMENT (Early Iron Age to Early Medieval - 550 BC to 1057 AD)
The four excavated mounds containing structures (Mercer A, B, D and E) are as described by previous field investigator and planned by Mercer and Howell. Mercer's mound 'C' is at ND 3264 6474; this is outside the enclosure comprising a stone dyke and ditch planned by Nicolson, but this enclosure can no longer be traced in the heather with any certainty. The enclosure 180m NNE of the 'church', tenuous in the extreme, is probably associated with nearby strip cultivation.
The date and purpose of the 'Kirk Stones' remain unclear. The isolation of site and proximity to a stream may suggest a shieling settlement, but exposed structures are well-made and constructed of heavy stones, and as such are totally dissimilar to other Highland shielings. It is more likely to be an ecclesisatical site as evidenced by names and tradition (Kirk of Strubster, Kirk Stones, Kirk Burn); these names existed before the structures where exposed by excavation. However, the structures are quite unlike the crude turf-built cells seen in Northern Isles monastic sites. The enclosure bounding the four structures is typical of a cashel, though this is no longer traceable. The discovery of wheel-turned, glazed pottery (albeit unstratified) would indicate a later (historic) date.
Visited by OS (N K B) 23 August 1982.
'The Kirk Stones': A low, grass-covered mound c50m long, upon which five structures have been built, all of which show signs of robbing.
'A' (SE structure, no. 1 on Nicolson's plan) is a mound 20m in diameter containing a square chamber, about 3.7m by 3.4m, with two vertical slabs defining three alcoves at its E end. An entrance passage more than 3m long enters the chamber centrally through its W wall. To the N of the entrance passage are indications of a possibly later passage leading to a small depression set near the NW corner of the main chamber.
'B' (SW structure, no. 4 on Nicolson's plan) is a mound 12m by 20m and 1m high containing a rectangular chamber of drystone walling which measures 2.4 by 2.2m and has a possible entrance from N.
'C' is an amorphous mound 7m in diameter and 1m high, with no visible stones. It is not precisely sited.
'D' (NW structure, no. 2 on Nicolson's plan) is a mound 14m in diameter and 1m high containing a sub-rectangular chamber of orthostatic construction, measuring 2.3 by 3.3m and having a passage 4m long approaching from S.
'E' (SW structure, no. 3 on Nicolson's plan) is a mound 7m by 5m and 1.5m high, containing a trapezoidal chamber of orthostatic construction measuring 2.1 by 2.6m with a possible passage entering from NW.
R J Mercer 1980.
"Kirk Stones", a group of four structures within a sub-oval enclosure wall on a grassy rise on S bank of Kirk Burn.
The four structures are as described by RCAHMS and Nicolson and survive in good order in their post-excavation condition. They are as planned by Nicolson. There appears to be indertminate traces of other structures, as yet unexcavated, in immediate vicinity. As stated by RCAHMS none of the four structures suggests an ecclesiastical edifice, Nicolson and Barry's interpretation of larger building being a church is due to its larger size and to the tradition.
The oval enclosure wall survives as an ill-defined turf-covered rickle of stones which cannot now be traced in N. The enclosed area measures 44m E-W by about 56m transversely. Apart from a slight depression in S which could be due to water action there is no ground evidence of the ditch planned by Nicolson.
About 64m to E of 'church' on S bank of stream are amorphous remains of a building of indeterminate size and character. In its NW corner is an upright slab which is presumably the 'headstone' referred to by Nicolson but which is actually part to the wall.
The fact that laing's sketches before and after excavation indicate that the structures were well covered by an accumulation of turf, suggests that they were not of recent origin - possibly the settlement of an Early Christian community, or even dating to prehistoric times.
About 180.0m NNE of 'church' is a sub-rectangular ditched enclosure cut into a level peat bog, which is presumably the 'turf-built homestead' referred to by Nicolson. It consists of a ditch 6m wide, 0.3m deep in NE narrowing to about 2m wide and 0.3m deep in the SW enclosing a sub-rectangular area measuring about 20m NW-SE by 25m transversely. There is a well-defined causeway about 3m wide halfway along NE side. The date and purpose of this enclosure cannot be ascertained. It may be quite recent. The only evidence of cultivation in area is about 100m to SW of the 'church' where there are faint traces of strip cultivation.
Surveyed at 1:10,000. Visited by OS (I S S) 21 March 1972.
An alleged ecclesiastical complex comprising a group of four structures, one of which is said to be a chapel. A stone wall encloses top of green knoll, 50 yds by 30 yds, on which site lies, and the whole is enclosed by a ditch. Many large stones, some of them set on edge, lie within enclosure.
The walls of building exist to a max height of about 3'. The batter on the outer faces and the number of small stones found in the interiors suggest that the roofing has been of the beehive type.
The excavation of the alleged chapel (No 1 on Nicholson's plan) was begun by Laing before 1866 and was completed by Sir Francis Tress Barry. It revealed a paved structure about 11' square within a 4'6" thick wall, its WSW entrance approached by a 13' long passage, 2' wide at the inner end and 3'6" wide at the outer. Against back wall of chamber, three slabs 1'6" - 2' high are set edge-on to wall. The thickness of walls on either side of the passage is indeterminate, but at 6'7" to left, face of a wall, running parallel for distance of 16' has been exposed (Nicolson 1916).
Laing reported finding of a row of boulders forming a bench or bed along wall on each side of interior, but of these there was no trace 1910. A layer of domestic refuse, a foot in max thickness covered floor and Laing recovered fragments of wheel-made pottery with a coarse blue glaze as well as shells, bones and ashes.
The other structures (Nos 2, 3 & 4) were cleared by Nicholson and proved to be generally similar though smaller, but the only finds were limpet shells especially from structure no. 4. All had scarcements and structure no. 3 had two floors levels. A small dyke ran off in a NW direction from outer end of passage of structure no. 2 (Nicolson 1916).
This is presumably the site referred to in EC18 as the site of "Kirk of Strubster" (Macfarlane 1906-8).
(Stroupster: ND 33 66) of which no remains of buildings were visible. Auld (1868) refers to site as a hermitage. Former cultivation is visible for about 6 acres on either side of Kirk Burn, with an adjacent foundation of a turf-built homestead over 50' long. Two chains E of the burn is what appears to be a grave with a headstone 8" high and a footstone just level with the surface (Nicolson 1916).
S Laing 1866; RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; J Nicolson 1916; W Macfarlane 1906-8; A Auld 1868.
Kirk Stones (NR) Supposed Site of Chapel (NR)
OS 6" map, Caithness, 1st ed., (1868)
In a list of donations to the museum in PSAS volume 7, a short description of the site is given along with the finds discovered (and donated) at the site by Samuel Laing. The site here is referred to as 'Moorland Mound' and the finds comprised fragments of pottery (one having a coarse blue glaze), a sandstone hammer or oval beach stone showing marks at both ends of having been used, two small stone whorls, smooth round pebbles, and a piece of porphyry polished on one side. <1>
Listed in the NMS catalogue is a sandstone pounder, a piece of polished porphyry and 4 fragments of pottery (Acc. Nos. GJ 192- GJ 197). These were dontated by Samuel Laing in 1865 and are listed as from Moorland Mound. <2>
- --- Text/Publication/Article: Myatt, L J. 1975. 'The early ecclesiatical remains of Wick Parish', Caithness Fld Club Bulletin Vol. 1 Oct 1975, p.81-4. Caithness Fld Club Bulletin. 81-4. 81, 84.
- --- Text/Publication/Article: Nicolson, J. 1916. 'The exploration of the site known as the Kirk Stones of Stroupster, in the parish of Wick, county of Caithness', Proc Soc Antiq Scot Vol. 50 1915-16, p.314-16. Proc Soc Antiq Scot. 314-16. 314-16; plan.
- --- Text/Publication/Volume: Auld, A. 1868. The ministers and men in the far north. 2.
- --- Text/Publication/Volume: Laing, S. 1866. Pre-historic remains of Caithness. 36-7; illust.
- --- Text/Publication/Volume: Mitchell, Sir A and Clark, J T (eds.). 1906-8. Geographical collections relating to Scotland. Vol. 1, 156.
- --- Text/Report/Fieldwork Report: Mercer, R. J. & Howell, J.M.. 1980. Archaeological field survey in northern Scotland, 1976-1979. University of Edinburgh. 30/01/1980. Paper and Digital. 88, AUK 55.
- --- Text/Report: RCAHMS. 1911. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Third report and inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Caithness. . 189, No. 581.
- --- Text/Publication/Volume: Watson, G.. 1991. Caithness Chapel Sites.
- <1> Text/Publication/Article: Stuart, J.. 1866-68. Notice of Letters addressed to Captain Shand, R.A., by Professor Thorkelin and General Robert Melvill, on Roman Antiquities in the North of Scotland, 1788-1790. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. 26-34. Online. pp. 50-1.
- <2> Dataset/Database File: National Museums Scotland. 2019. Highland Finds from the NMS Catalogue. National Museums Scotland. Digital. GJ 192- GJ 197.
|Grid reference||Centred ND 3266 6475 (91m by 74m) (Buffered by site type)|
- POUNDER (Undated)
- SHERD (Undated)
Related Monuments/Buildings (2)
Related Investigations/Events (0)
External Links (2)
- http://portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/SM4636 (Online designation description (Historic Environment Scotland))
- https://canmore.org.uk/site/9355 (View RCAHMS Canmore entry for this site)
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