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Date 2008

Event ID 578104

Category Recording

Type Excavation


ND 1147 5449 In the N of Scotland there are a number of earthwork monuments that have been described as ‘henges’ or ‘hengiforms’. They have a number of features in common. All are small circular enclosures with an external bank, a wide internal ditch and a surprisingly small interior. Until recently, few of the sites had been excavated. One example at Loch Migdale, Sutherland, was investigated by Time Team without any result. Another was recorded during road building at Lairg. The first research excavation did not happen until Easter 2008, with the investigation of a well preserved earthwork at Pullyhour, Caithness.

The site was on the side of a valley overlooking the Thurso River, in a position with evidence of Mesolithic activity. The earthwork had a single entrance and a well preserved external bank. It was exactly aligned on the remains of large cairn on the opposite bank of the river. In Caithness, monuments of this kind normally date from the Neolithic period.

The earthwork was built in two phases. The first was a circular enclosure with a broad internal ditch which must have held water. It had been built in open country which was not used for farming. A date from the old land surface shows that it has a terminus post quem of 1620–1450 BC. In its second phase the enclosure was converted to an oval ground plan by widening the ditch on the inside. A small horseshoe-shaped bank was constructed on its inner lip, and the area inside it was cobbled. At the same time the outer bank was enlarged and its inner edge was probably revetted on by a rubble wall. This phase is dated to between 1320–1120 BC. A small post was erected in the centre of the enclosure.

The entrance was very narrow and was flanked by a stone kerb. Just outside it was a pair of posts. One was much larger than the other, and the base of the upright still survived. This was a substantial piece of pine, a species which became extinct in Caithness at the end of the Neolithic period. It has a radiocarbon date of 2580–2340 BC. Its socket had been cut through the secondary bank, so that it could not have been erected before the Middle Bronze Age. Not only had the builders aligned the enclosure on an ancient monument, they raised a massive post which must have been dug out of a bog. Its actual age could not have been known, but they would have been aware that it was a relic of some antiquity. The only artefacts associated with the Bronze Age structure were two flint flakes.

Finally, the monument was decommissioned. The rubble supporting the bank was pushed into the ditch and the

entrance was blocked by a small cairn. The pine post was uprooted and the stones that had held it in place were smashed to pieces and used to cover its socket. There is no archaeological evidence of further activity on the site.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Reading University. Wood conservation and dating: National Museums Scotland.

Richard Bradley and Hugo Lamdin-Whymark (Reading University), 2008

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