MHG52601 - Quernstone quarry - Rubha nam Brathairean


A large intertidal expanse of volcanic rock on the eastern side of the peninsula which exhibits circular markings similar to those found at other reported quern stone quarries. Quarrying may have taken place at any time between the Iron Age and the relatively recent past.

Type and Period (2)

  • QUERN QUARRY (Early Iron Age to 19th Century - 550 BC? to 1900 AD?)
  • (Alternate Type) NATURAL FEATURE? (Undated)

Protected Status

Full Description

A local researcher, Roddy Mainland, has reported the site of a possible quern stone quarry on the north eastern side of the Rubha nam Brathairean peninsula in the Trotternish area of Skye. The site is described as a roughly horizontal ledge system spanning 150 to 200 metres and exhibiting many hundreds of circular markings. The markings are consistent in size, ranging from 350 to 400mm across and varying from clear cut to very weathered. There is no local knowledge or tradition relating to this particular site, although there are local stories about the peninsula in general. The site has been inspected by staff from the British Geological Survey who could not give a conclusive geological explanation for the features. The rock is an olivine dolerite. It is further noted by Mr Mainland that the name of the peninsula could possibly result from a misinterpretation of an original name "Rubha nam Brathainn" (point of the quern stones). However there are convincing origins for the conventional name, which translates as "Brothers' Point". <1>

Mr Mainland has supplied a large number of photographs of this site. A selection are attached to this record and the remainder are available on CD. <2>

A contact at Scottish Natural Heritage has looked at photographs of the site, which lies within the Valtos SSSI, and is of the opinion that the markings are caused by preferential weathering exploiting circular variations within the volcanic rock. <3>

Fraser Hunter, Principal Curator of Iron Age & Roman Collections at the National Museums Scotland, visited the site in June 2007. His notes from the visit confirm the details given by Mr Mainland. It is noted that the positioning of the circles is not random, but they appear to be more common closer to the water and they occur mostly in clusters focussed on the corners and edges of outcrops. The circles seem essentially to be surface features. Where vertical "stacks" are apparent the lower circles project further forward than the upper ones. Any tool marks have been eroded away by water action. There are several aspects to the site which are consistent with quarrying activity and inconsistent with a natural origin. It is noted, however, that there are difficulties regarding the inaccessibility of the site, but it seems most likely that access would have been by sea. The size and shape of the putative quern stones gives little clue as to date, as quern stones of this type were used in the area from the Iron Age to the recent past. <4>

During further discussions about this site with various parties, a number of concerns were raised about the lack of known artefacts made from this material (olivine dolerite). It is felt that this could arise simply from a lack of systematic collection of quern stones and a lack of geological characterisation work. <5>

A site visit was carried out by Øystein James Jansen, assistant professor of geology at the University of Bergen, in July 2012. After visiting the site, Jansen was convinced that this was the remnants of a quern stone quarry. He determined that the 'side by side' technique was dominantly used, however the 'coin pile method' was also used. The quarry site was described as expanding from the base of the cliff for a distance of 200 metres. The depth of the quarrying appeared to vary from less than half a metre up to a few metres at most. A unique aspect to the quarry site was also reported: at high tide the entire quarry site is submerged under water, meaning that any debris leftover after quarrying would have been washed away periodically. It was also noted that the proximity to the sea could have provided transport for trade. A series of photographs were also provided from this field observation. <6>

The site was Scheduled by Historic Environment Scotland in 2017 with the adjacent dun (see MHG5255). <7>

Sources/Archives (7)



Grid reference Centred NG 52778 62758 (111m by 179m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NG56SW
Geographical Area SKYE AND LOCHALSH
Civil Parish KILMUIR

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (2)

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