MHG42463 - Cist w finds, Birkle Hills


No summary available.

Type and Period (1)

  • BURIAL (Early Iron Age to Early Medieval - 550 BC? to 1057 AD?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

Long Cist and Symbol Stone found 1864 and 1894 (NAT) OS 1:10,000 map, (1975)

The site of a probably post-Mesolithic food-gatherers' encampment is indicated by a shell-midden which forms basis of more northerly of Birkle Hills. Into this, long cists were inserted, probably between 8th-10th centuries; and in top of mound was a chambered structure with an incised symbol stone re-used as a paving slab.
The shell-mound lies on a raised beach and is covered with blown sand which forms a mound about 100yds long, 30yds wide and 30ft high, whose surface is strewn with limpet and periwinkle shells, animal bones and teeth. On summit and around base are small cairns of massive stones which seem to be remains of roasting hearths. Evidence of fire-action is widespread.
In E base of mound was a long cist containing a skull-less skeleton, and remains of three or four other cists lay scattered around base. Laing described them as being identical to ND36SW 5 (ie about 6ft long composed of upright slabs and unpaved), except that they 'seem to have had two memorial pillars or small standing stones about 3ft high, one on each side of head-stone of the cist.' One of cists contained stones which Laing identified as implements, but, since he compares them with the 'implements' found with ND 36 SW 5, which Edwards (1926) could not accept as such, this identification is doubtful.
The structure in top of mound was excavated by Laing c1864, and by Sir Francis Tress-Barry in 1894-5. It appears to have been a rectangular chamber 8 by 5ft, lying E-W, and approached from each direction by a gently-descending passage 6ft long and 3ft wide. It was carefully built with upright flags, interstices being filled with smaller stones. 'Between upright flags were placed, in several instances, oblong stones about 3ft high similar to the memorial stones of the cists.' There was no trace of a roof, but floor was carefully paved. E entrance was blocked externally by a massive boulder. W passage, which was angles slightly southwards, was not blocked but was partially ruined. Midden material lay both over and under paving of chamber as well as outside W entrance. From interior came whorls, chipped flints, a grooved sandstone block, and a hammer-stone. The refuse matter and pavement showed signs of fire, which became more intense in central chamber where many of stones were split by heat and bones were all charred. From upper strata of outside midden came a bone skewer and a bone pin which seemed to be a copy of a metal original. At depth of 2ft in overlying layer of clean sand was an iron nail and fragments of rusted iron, and on surface pieces of iron ore were found but there was no indication of iron furnaces or slag. No pottery was found not was there any indication that fishing was found nor was there any indication that fishing had contributed to diet of inhabitants. Laing's finds were donted to NMAS in 1865 (Acc.No. GJ 174-191). The re-used symbol stone was recovered in pieces during Tress-Barry's excavation and was also donated to the NMAS in 1895. It is a slab of Old Red Sandstone, 3ft 2ins, by 1ft 9ins, by 3ins thick, incised on one face with a decorated mirror symbol and a triple oval figure ornemented with intersecting arcs of circles.
The remains of structure were still visible in 1910.
It seems to bear comparison with the more complex structure which underlies Viking houses at Point of Buckquoy, Orkney (HY22NW12), and is dated to 8-10th centuries AD. This would agree with the dating of the long cists, assuming that their comparison with those at Ackergill (ND35SW 12) and those at Rough of Stain (ND36SW 5) is valid.
S Laing 1866; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1870; NMAS 1892; F Tress-Barry 1895;
J R Alland and J Anderson 1903; RCAHMS 1911; A J H Edwards 1926; A D Lacaille 1954.

The top of this sandhill is strewn with large stones from which a small modern shelter has been constructed. There is no trace of the structure described above, nor the remains of any cists.
Visited by OS (R D L) 22 April 1963.

This site is on the summit of a sand-blown rise. Over an area some 30.0m N-S by 20.0m is an irregular area of stones, some of which appear to have been artificially placed. Near the centre is a setting approximately 2.7m square of loosely-laid, smallish slabs edged by single course of mainly earthfast stones. This is undoubtedly the remains of the structure excavated by both Laing and Tress-Barry; it is not a modern shelter as suggested by the previous field investigator. No shell midden, nor anything else of note, was seen.
Revised at 1:2500.
Visited by OS (J M) 13 July 1982.

Class I symbol stone.Triple oval with,to its left,a symbol considered to be either the remnants of a mirror or a triple disc.
A.Mack 1997 p.35

This site was re-appraised along with the other cemetery sites in the area using Society of Antiquaries of Scotland manuscripts, and published sources, by Anna Ritchie. <1>

Sources/Archives (15)



Grid reference Centred ND 3392 5847 (6m by 6m) (2 map features)
Map sheet ND35NW
Civil Parish WICK
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

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