MHG10872 - Broch - Carn Liath


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Type and Period (2)

  • BROCH (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • CIST (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)

Protected Status

Full Description

Carn Liath (NAT) Broch (NR) OS 6"map, (1964)

Carn Liath is an excavated broch, measuring 30ft internal diameter within a wall 18ft thick at entrance in E and 12ft average internal height. The entrance passage is 6ft high and roofed with flags and contains a door check with bar-holes either side with an entrance to a guard cell on N side.
Within broch an entrance in SE arc leads to a mural stair of twenty-one steps. In middle of interior is a sunken chamber 8ft long, 6ft broad and 6ft deep; secondary walls encumber internal area.
Outside broch entrance is approached from S by a covered and flagged passage, 12ft long, 3ft wide and 4.5ft high. The outer lintel of this passage bears cup-marks on its upper face (RCAHMS 1911) It also displays linear markings which appear to be artificial (J M Joass 1873) Around broch are remains of encircling walls and outbuildings (RCAHMS 1911).
Finds from broch include mortars and querns, discs of sandstone and shale, steatite cups, a long-handled comb, a whalebone, two bronze plates, a rusted iron blade and fragments of coarse native pottery. Outside broch was found a cruciform-shaped silver brooch, 3ins long. It is clear that its design is strongly influenced by Roman tradition, but conversely, saltire decorating the arm tends to connect it with some of silverware found at Norrie's Law, Fife (NO40NW 3), dated 7th century. It is possible that brooch offers a link between provincial Roman design and symbols characterising sculptured stones of N and E Scotland (J Anderson 1901 and J Curle 1932). Robertson states that brooch may be of Roman or native manufacture, but it is not earlier than 4th century. (A S Robertson 1970)
RCAHMS 1911, visited 1909; T A Wise 1881; J M Joass 1873; J Anderson 1883 and 1901; J Curle 1932; A S Robertson 1970. <1>-<7>

The broch was Scheduled in 1935.

Re-surveyed at 1:2500. Visited by OS (E G C) 7 April 1962.

Carn Liath (name verified), a broch situated on a raised beach and approached by steep slopes on all sides; it is basically as described by RCAHMS (1911). There has however been some change since their report, due in main, to deterioration and, in recent years, to tidying up by DOE; interior has been cleared out, sunken chamber filled in and floor levelled off; entrance to guard chamber has been walled up as has immediate access to mural stairway, whose approach passage has partially collapsed; the bar holes are no longer evident and entrance is un-lintelled inward from door-check; approach passage from outside broch is deroofed and cup-marked lintel (linear markings on this could suggest Ogham lettering) lies displaced nearby.
Internally, and only readily seen in E half of broch is a scarcement 2.2m above present floor level. A secondary wall 0.4m thick, lines inner face of broch wall to scarcement height in S half; elsewhere, round inner periphery, it is much reduced and shows signs of recent restoration.
Outside broch in NW quarter are remains possibly of an encircling defensive outwork but general area is confused by later structures of a domestic type which abut onto broch and clutter its immediate environs.
Visited by OS (J M) 20 November 1975.

Finds from broch are in Dunrobin Museum (Acc.Nos: 1868.3-26) and NMAS (Acc.Nos: FR486; GA 105-111)
Info in TS catalogue of Dunrobin museum and NMAS catalogue from A S Henshall.

During a short trial within Guardianship area 1972 spoil tip was removed from E side of broch and easterly approach passage was partially cleared. In latter a well-preserved stepped paving was revealed, flanked and partially overlain by a wall of drystone masonry edged with several courses of dressed blocks. The excavated area has since been consolidated. P Love 1984.<8>

Excavation prior to consolidation at this site examined outworks to NW of broch. Despite thorough Victorian disturbance, a tentative chronology was established for site. Bronze Age was represented by a beaker fragment and later cist with food vessel and shale washer necklace. Pre-broch settlement, shown by post holes, predated construction of broch and attendant ring wall, while later Iron Age activity included division into outbuildings of area between broch and outer wall by addition of cross walls. A previously unrecorded circuit wall was identified downslope of the main outworks, and site produced evidence of shale and iron working.
P Love 1986. <9>

Further excavation took place in 1987, in parallel with masonry consolidation. A semi-circular stake defined feature was found around the Bronze Age cist discovered in 1986. This was apparently originally a complete circle, but had been truncated during scarping of the mound prior to the construction of the Iron Age outer wall. The new wall discovered on the outer slope of the broch mound last year was followed round to the N, and was found to be of two-phase construction. The entrance passage of the broch was cleared to the original paved level, and the guard cell and outer 'dog kennel' at the entrance were cleared of their modern fill prior to consolidation for display.
P Love 1987. <10>

Carn Liath, NC80SE0004
Carn Liath is an excellent example of a broch, because while it displays clear evidence of many of their characteristic features passages and cells inside the double skinned walls, an elaborate entrance-way leading to the broch tower and an associated village it has a certain number of unique features. (49)
A thick, secondary facing has been added to the inside of the wall of the broch tower. This represents a building which was constructed out of the broch remains, once the original walls above first storey level – had collapsed. Some of the houses built around it were occupied at same time as broch. Others had been rebuilt and may be associated with this secondary structure. (67)
Set into the floor of the broch were three round chambers. These, like the big pit sunk into the bank surrounding the broch, may have acted as cellars. In and around the broch, local shale had been used to make beads, rings and bracelets and there was also evidence for iron working. (52)
Armit, I., 1997. Celtic Scotland. Edinburgh: Batsford.
Close-Brooks, J., 1995. Exploring Scotland’s Heritage. The Highlands. Edinburgh: HMSO, 147, No. 90.
Gourlay, R., 1996. Sutherland. An Archaeological Guide. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 73-4.
RCAHMS. 1911. Sutherland. Edinburgh: HMSO, 91-2, No. 270.
Information from SCRAN Project, March, 2000.

Site visit 2/7/2003 (photographs) possible erosion to side of mound due to overcutting grass in dry conditions. Stone dumping/scree developing in several areas. Rabbit damage on W side. <11>

This site was included in Mackie's 2007 'The Roundhouses, Brochs and Wheelhouses of Atlantic Scotland c.700 BC - AD 500: Architecture and material culture'. See link below to HES Canmore record which includes the chapter on this site. <12>

Photographs of some of the finds from Carn Liath, displayed in Dunrobin Museum, were submitted to the HER by a participant on a Community Timeline Course, run by ARCH. <13>

Cait McCullagh advised of an error in this record (now corrected) which ascribed the silver crossbow brooch to the Bronze Age rather than the Pictish/early medieval period. More information can be found in Hunter, F. 2007, Beyond the Edge of Empire - Caledonians, Picts and Romans, Rosemarkie: Groam House Museum Trust and Cessford, C. 1997 'The crossbow brooch from Carn Liath', in Pictish Arts Society Journal 11. <14>

Lynn Fraser submitted several photographs of the broch via the Highland HER Facebook page. <15>

The site is included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. See link below for site entry. <16>

NMS catalogue lists a facsimile of the silver bow brooch, Acc. No. FR 486. The original is held at Dunrobin Castle Museum under Acc. No. 1868.7.
Three fragments of shale rings or discs, a broken shale bangle and a flat ingot of zinc bronze covered with hammer mark were acquired by the NMS from the Duke of Sutherland in 1873 (Acc. Nos. GA 105- GA 109). The excavation assemblage from the 1986 excavations are listed in the NMS catalogue under Acc. No. 2011.19. <17>

Find from the broch in Dunrobin Castle Museum were catalogued during an inventory of the museum's collection in 2019 by ARCH. The objects compriseda steatite lamp (1868.3), whalebone tool (1868.4) a hammered sheet of bronxe (1868.5-6), a crossbow type brooch (1868.7), weaving combs (1868.8-9), antler tips (1868.10-12), whetstone (1868.13 or 14), shale rings and or loom weights/spindle whorls) (1868.15-23), stone cups or lamps (1868.24-25). They are on display in case 24, shelf B, D and E. One of the weaving combs and two of the shale rings were not located. A quern fragment from the broch was kept within one of the cupboards. <18>

Archaeological recording of unauthorised damage at the broch was undertaken by CFA Archaeology in 2022 under the terms of the Minor Archaeological Services Call-off Contract with HES. A single pit was recorded, which had disturbed an earlier animal burrow. The disturbance was located next to the exterior wall of the broch on the south-west side. It measured 0.25m x 0.25m and was 0.4m deep. There was no evidence of any artefacts, which suggested that it was likely that any metal object originally contained within the pit had been removed. Following recording the disturbed material was reinstated. A walkover survey was also conducted around the scheduled monument area, however no other disturbances were noted. <19>

Sources/Archives (50)



Grid reference Centred NC 8704 0137 (70m by 70m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC80SE
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish GOLSPIE

Finds (15)

  • UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • DISC (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BEAKER (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)
  • NECKLACE (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)
  • BOW BROOCH (Roman to Pictish - 79 AD to 900 AD)
  • SHERD (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BRACELET (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • BLADE (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • CUP (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • INGOT (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • COMB (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • MORTAR (VESSEL) (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • QUERN (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • RING (Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • VESSEL (Bronze Age - 2400 BC to 551 BC)

Related Monuments/Buildings (3)

Related Investigations/Events (3)

External Links (4)

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