MHG9129 - Achnahaird Sands - settlement site


Buildings of 17th or 18th century date, excavated from eroding sand dunes.

Type and Period (3)

  • (Former Type) BUILDING (Early Bronze Age to Medieval - 2400 BC to 1559 AD)
  • TOWNSHIP (17th Century to 18th Century - 1601 AD to 1800 AD)
  • HUT CIRCLE? (Early Bronze Age to Late Iron Age - 2400 BC to 560 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

NC01SW 2 0167 1314.
NC 018 133. At Achnahaird Sands in an area of coastal sand dunes lie traces of human occupation. Numerous shell heaps, charcoal patches, and several hearths were seen. A nucleus of dry-stone foundations indicate a structure composed of a circular wall c18' diameter with a rectangular annexe indicated by a kerb of large stones running into a sand-face. Fragments of coarse pottery were found widely scattered, along with a number of flakes of flint. 2 hammer stones were found, one extensively abraded at both ends, and a neatly made spindle whorl.
A chipping floor has been exposed by high winds. The occurrence of iron slag and lower half of a rotary quern in proximity of foundations and shell heaps suggest a period for some of remains, but occupation of this area was probably over a long period of time. Sherds of hand-made pottery, possibly medieval, from a shell heap at NC 018 132, which were donated to NMAS in 1962-3 by C F Tebbutt, Eynesbury, seem to confirm this.
R Crerar 1969; Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1965. <1>

At NC 0167 1314, a structure has been gradually exposed in an eroding sand dune over a period of 40 years. This is undoubtedly nucleus of foundations seen by Crerar. It is now visible as a dry-stone walled rectangular enclosure with a curving E end, measuring 6.5m E-W by 4m N-S within a wall 1.3m thick. A small rectangular pen has been recently built in interior. From near its SE corner a thin wall of stones on edge curves away to SW for 13m, before it disappears into dune. Two other walls, both running W from SW and NW corners, also disappear into dune. A straight line of stones crossing these latter walls from NW to SE is the foundation of a recent iron fence.
The walls stand on an old land surface and around them are scattered many fragments of iron slag, some fire cracked stones and pieces of charcoal; there are also several different sized heaps of stones, of uncertain provenance. A sherd of thin grey pottery was picked up by Field surveyor close to enclosure, and two sherds of thin red ware were found 80m to N, together with a beach pebble used as a hammer stone.
Surveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (A A) 18 July 1974.

Mr and Mrs Kirby (3 ferry Croft, Lairg, Sutherland) found a bronze ring brooch (14th - 15th c AD), two small medieval sherds, and much slag "in immediate vicinity of the rectangular stone buildings". They also found a bronze pin (perhaps 9th - 14th c AD) "from the side of a small rivulet at NC 018 134, and not associated with any structure or midden deposit". The finds are in the NMAS.
Info contained in Letter from J Close-Brooks (NMAS) 4 May 1976.

Two buildings and an enclosure, a scatter of artefacts, and a cairn are visible in eroding sand-dunes c100m to E of Achnahaird farmsteading. In addition, there are several stone-covered middens, which contain 19th century artefacts, c100m to NNW of the steading.
The buildings are aligned on same axis, WNW to ESE, about 20m apart, with the enclosure attached to S of more easterly of two. W building is boat-shaped and is exposed to damage by both natural and human processes, whilst that to E is still partly grass-covered, although it, too, is progressively being uncovered by winter-storms. The boat-shaped building has a rounded WNW end and what appears to be a squared ESE end. It measures 12.4m by 7m over faced-rubble footings, measuring 1.1m thick and up to 0.4m high with an entrance on NNE. A row of stones on W of entrance and another on opposite side of building may mark edge of a platform about 1m wide on both sides of building. Its plan is reminiscent of a building excavated at Drimore on South Uist (NF74SE 5; MacLaren 1974 <2>). The second building is larger, measuring 16.6m by 7.2m over faced-rubble walls 1.3m thick and, where best-preserved, stands up to 0.6m high in four courses. The exposed part of interior displays what may be a partition, and under ESE end there are traces of an earlier structure, predating enclosure that adjoins S of building. The exposed surfaces of buildings and yard are scattered with artefacts including unglazed medieval or post-medieval pottery, shattered pot-boilers, molluscs, bird and animal bone, and a polished stone disc.
About 50m to ENE of buildings (NC 0171 1315) there is a square mound capped with boulders, 4m across and 1m high, which may be a burial cairn (ACHIL94 479).
About 100m to NW (centred on NC 0160 1322) there are several mounds of stone and modern rubbish or varying shapes from large round through oblong to small round heaps in groups. The remains of a wire fence that formed a boundary of one of fields of Achnahaird Farm run across site from NW to SE.
(ACHIL94 477-9)Visited by RCAHMS (PJD) 11 August 1994

NC 017 132 A basic plan of site was produced as part of a coastal erosion survey between Ullapool and Lochinver and a postgraduate research project at Glasgow University. The site has experienced steady coastal erosion over a period of 30 years (DES 1969, 1974, 1976 and 1985) and recent sand movement has exposed paving, hearths and a land surface and a second subrectangular building with curved walls to W of previously documented structural complex. An attempt has been made to determine period of occupation and activities practised at the site by compiling an inventory of artefacts collected from site. The artefact assemblage consists primarily of hand-made pottery sherds, copper-alloy offcuts and artefacts, worked steatite, lithics and metalworking waste. The artefacts suggest a late prehistoric to post-medieval occupation for site, with significant industrial activity in the 14th to 17th centuries. Further information on this site is currently being sought.
A Long 1996 <3>

Excavation took place in October 2000. List of finds from the site attached. Request from landowner Mrs. Rex that no further archaeological fieldwork take place there. Visit from Francis Ross and Stuart Farrell re proposed community-led Rescue excavation 5/9/00 <4>

Excavated during September and October 2000, as part of a community rescue excavation project. Two buildings, associated areas of paving, and hearths were recorded.

The buildings at Achnahaird are likely to date from the 17th to early 18th century given the date of the finds of material culture. Even with their style of construction both being different they should be both be seen as being contemporary following a local building tradition with the orientation of both the buildings relating to prevailing wind conditions. Unfortunately comparative sites excavated of this style of buildings to the Northwest of Scotland are lacking in the archaeological record. There a few comparitive sites of later medieval rural settlement in Northwest Scotland.

What can be said is that these buildings provide evidence for a diverse use of occupation and economy through evidence of fishing, smithing, animal husbandry and trade (coins). It has been suggested that these buildings may be part of the township of Achnahaird as depicted on Peter Mays map of 1758 but further detailed study of the area will be needed to confirm this. When they were abandoned is unknown, probably prior to Peter Mays Map and probably were started to be covered over (especially building no.2) with the great storm of 1771 which probably covered much of the area of Achnahaird with sand.

The find of prehistoric flint and that the enclosure incorporates a number of recumbent stones may indicate that the enclosure is a reuse of an earlier structure possibly a hut circle (a number of hut circles are recorded to the SE towards Achiltibuie) though further work may be required to resolve this but no evidence of prehistoric deposits was found in the excavation of the paved area.

No direct evidence for Norse settlement was recorded, associated with the two buildings; however, finds from this area indicated some form of Norse settlement in close proximity. Two finds were made in the dunes towards area 3 (find 33 - steatite rim sherd & find 48 worked stone object) which added to the number of steatite sherds found in the past. <5>

Photographs of the site were forwarded to the HER in November 2010 by Helen Woodley. <6>

The NMS catalogue lists 15 flint flakes (Acc. No. HR 1458) and bronze and iron objects (HR 1460) from Achnahaird Sands.
Listed also is a copper alloy pin (Acc. No. 2009.155) and 8 pottery sherds (2009.156), described only as from Achnahaird. These are assumed to be from this site.<7>

A final report on the excavations at the site in 2000 was published in 2020 and is available online. See link below. <8>

Sources/Archives (13)



Grid reference Centred NC 0167 1314 (30m by 30m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC01SW
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish LOCHBROOM

Finds (13)

  • PLANT MACRO REMAINS (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • HAMMERSTONE (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • SLAG (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • ROTARY QUERN (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • PIN (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • POT BOILER (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • FLAKE (Undated)
  • VESSEL (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • BIRD REMAINS (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)
  • MOLLUSCA REMAINS (Norse to Medieval - 800 AD to 1399 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (4)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (2)

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