MHG42089 - Long Cist - Freswick Links


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Type and Period (1)

  • LONG CIST (Undated)

Protected Status

Full Description

Viking Settlement (NR) (remains of) OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

Freswick Links, an area of sandy beach and dunes whose profile is subject to continual change, presents evidence of multi-period occupation from Mesolithic to medieval in form of stone industries, kitchen midden deposits, a broch (ND36NE 5) which produced a cup-marked stone, a settlement which began in pre-Viking period and continued into full medieval, and enigmatic structures which were thought to be 'earth-houses'.
The kitchen-middens, mostly of limpet shells and fish bones, occur mainly in area of Lady's Brow (ND 375 677), but material, including pottery ranging from Neolithic to Iron Age, and even underlying Freswick Castle (ND36NE 3) is found all over links. One midden, situated 100 yds inland from bay, was explored about 1954 and proved to be site of a Bronze Age food-gatherer's encampment. As well as shell refuse it yielded bone tools, flint implements and beaker-type sherds. It overlay a mesolithic stratum containing flakes, cores and scrapers (Lacaille 1954) Microliths have also been found in neighbourhood. Other kitchen-middens at ND 376 676 (Morris, Batey and Rackham 1979) and ND 3769 6750 (info from Dr J Close-Brooks, NMAS, 20 April 1976) have produced grass-tempered sherds which at Jarlshof (HU30NE 1) proved to be 12th to 13th century Norse (Hamilton 1956) although such pottery is no longer regarded as exclusive to this period and culture (Ritchie, Lane 1981) Similar sherds have been collected from a sand-blow at ND 3776 6724 (info from Dr J Close-Brooks, NMAS, 20 April 1976). These are obviously associated with later phases of late 11th to late 13th centuries settlement excavated by Curle in 1937-8 at ND 3765 6745 (information from P K Miller, Post Office, Freswick) and by Childe in 1941, probably about ND 3768 6749, since his site lay NE of Curle's, was associated with same midden deposit and was threatened by a sand-pit.
Curle's excavation revealed remains of one, and possibly two, substantial Viking houses overlying incinerated remains of a wattle and daub structure, and followed by 2 successive Norse complexes of less substantial construction. Childe's excavation confirmed Norse succession but revealed evidence of an appreciably earlier, though still Iron Age, occupation, in form of a structure of edge-set stones.
In 1910 RCAHMS noted ruins of a rectangular building, exposed by excavation, about 200 yds SE modern chapel (ND 3762 6791). Its walls were 4ft thick, with traces of lime on inner face, and had a doorway 2ft 5ins wide in SE, behind jambs of which were barholes. Iron slag covered paved floor. Since a smithy formed part of upper levels of Curle's excavation, this structure might be interpreted as fulfilling a similar function in northward extension of settlement, although use of lime might suggest it was not an early structure. This may be 'stone and lime building' at N end of Freswick Links from which came a whorl of cetacean bone which was donated to NMAS 1929 (PSAS 1929). That occupation did extend northward is shown by extensive area at ND 378 677 in which cliff-face erosion has exposed burnt stone and midden material.
In 1965 (OS field investigator {RD}) Curle's excavation could still be identified with, 50 yds S of it, at ND 3765 6741, a long cist 2.1m long by 0.6m broad and 0.6m deep, unpaved and lacking E end-slab, but containing an adult skeleton lying face down. Otherwise all that could be identified was a short stretch of walling and a slight rickle of stones at ND 3770 6776, which might be RCAHMS site; and 7.5m of curved walling at ND 3770 6733 (OS field investigator {RD}).
Freswick has been identified with 'Thrasvik' of the Orkneyinga Saga. RAF APs (CPE/Scot//UK/264: 3007-8) suggest that structural remains of settlement survive over much of links area, especially at ND 3768 6736, in vicinity of broch at ND 3761 6761, and at ND 3757 6776. Last two areas seem to be approx those in which Edwards excavated in 1924 and 1926. His first excavation was of a hut circle in E- facing gully, about 600 yds N of Freswick Houe (ND 376 670). It was oval, 17 x13ft, composed of single boulders resting on pure sand. An entrance, 3ft 9ins wide, in SW, was flanked on its S side by a portal 4ft high. The floor was clay.
About 16ft NE of hut circle, Edwards (1927) excavated an 'earth-house', and two others, lying within 11 ft of each other, were excavated to N of Lady's Brow (Edwards 1925). These structures appear to bear more resemblance to some of elements of a broch settlement, e.g. two chambers to W of broch in Yarrows complex (ND34SW 1) than to souterrains. Among many small finds from links in NMAS, mostly donated by Simon Bremner, Mid Town, Freswick, between 1928 and 1951, are steatite whorl and steatite urn fragments 'from the base of a ruined cairn on Freswick Links', donated in 1935. Finds from Curle's excavation are also in NMAS.
RCAHMS 1911, visited 1910; A J H Edwards 1925; 1927; PSAS 1929; 1935; A D Lacaille 1937; 1954; A O Curle 1939; V G Childe 1943;
J R C Hamilton 1956; J E Burns 1966; C Morris, C Batey and D Rackham 1979; G Ritchie and A Lane 1981; Visited by OS (R D) 27 October 1965; Info contained in letter and 6" plan from J E Kirby, 3 Ferry Croft, Lairg, to J Close-Brooks, NMAS

ND 376 677. A structure of unknown extent and nature is eroding from N side of dune complex known as Lady's Brow. The dimensions are obscured by sand-fall. CAN 058.
ND 3764 6746. Part of one of Norse structures excavated by Curle is visible as stretch of walling about 2m long running roughly E-W. None of the previously recorded flint-producing sites was identified. CAN 059.
C Batey, Caithness Coastal Survey, 1982

A detailed survey of site, as well as exploratory works, midden-sampling, minor excavation, recording of eroding cliff-sections and consolidation was carried out 1980-1. Possible evidence of cultivation was found, as were traces of walls N and S of Curle's excavation, and a probable cist, empty of contents, in an eroding area above beach.
C Morris, C Batey and N Pearson 1980; C Morris, C Batey and A K G Jones, 1981

None of structures previously exposed, some by excavation, can now be seen on Freswick Links. Further excavation is preceeding at present and a report will be produced (Info from C Batey to OS).
Visited by OS (N K B) 23 August 1982; C Batey, C Morris and A K G Jones 1981; C Batey et al 1981.

Human remains from the long cist are listed on the University of Aberdeen Museums and Collections catalogue under Acc. Nos. ABDUA:14755. These can be searched on their online catalogue. <1>

There is an archive file for the human remains within the University of Aberdeen's Marishal Museum. <2>

Sources/Archives (33)



Grid reference Centred ND 3760 6761 (6m by 6m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND36NE
Civil Parish CANISBAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (1)

  • HUMAN REMAINS (Undated)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

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