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Publication Account

Date 2002

Event ID 586538

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


ND36 5 KEISS NORTH (‘Broch at the White Gate’, ‘Whitegate broch’)

ND/3541 6120 (visited 13/7/63 and in 1971)

This probable solid-based broch in Wick, Caithness, is one of a group of three sited close together near Keiss and which were excavated by Sir F Tress Barry; this one was explored in 1892-93. It is now in ruins and overgrown with turf, standing on flat ground with no sign of outer defences; a mass of ruinous outbuildings surrounds it [9, plan].


The single entrance faces east towards the sea and is 4.12m (13.5ft) long, 76cm (2.5ft) wide at the exterior. It has two door-frames in it, the first being 1.12m (3ft 8in) from the exterior and evidently with only a single rebated door-check in the right wall [5, 156] (though the small plan seems to show another opposite and slightly in front of it. The second door-frame is 1.65m (5.5ft) further in (or 1.77m from the outside) and the checks of this are formed of slabs set into the walls. One of these last is visible on one of Tress Barry's photographs [5, pl. LII). There are no traces of guard cells.

No other intra-mural features were found anywhere except for a break in the inner wallface at about 9 o'clock which may be the entrance to the mural stair; the stair, if it exists, was not uncovered. A secondary cell seems to have been built on the wallhead opposite the entrance and there are two rows of flagstones on edge in the interior, probably also secondary, with a probable hearth (a “cist-like cavity or fireplace some 2.5ft square”) between them; these rows are parallel with the entrance [5, pl. LII]. There are several radial slabs along the 8-10 o'clock arc of the inner wallface, and an aumbry 60cm (2ft) square was found in the inner wallface at about 9 o'clock. No trace of a secondary facing in the court was observed and the fact that the plan of the court is an exact circle (below) tends to confirm that there was no such addition to the primary wall.


There is not much that can be said about this probable broch, as the quality of the available information is so poor. One cannot even tell from the available description whether the building had an intra-mural stair; if it did it was either in Level 1 and not uncovered or higher up in Level 2 and no longer extant. Since most of the local brochs have stairs at ground level the former seems probable, but there is no way of knowing if one ever existed. If it did not Keiss North must have been a fairly low structure.

The finds such as they are could indicate a middle Iron Age occupation although the restored pot is of unusual interest and could be earlier [2, fig. 2]. This is a well-known late Bronze Age style known as the Dunagoil vase, being a finer version of the larger and coarser Dunagoil urn. Local examples dated to the end of the Bronze Age were found not many miles away at Crosskirk (ND01 7). Whether this pot, which was clearly in use during the occupation of the broch ('It was found in excavating the interior …. in a multitude of fragments which lay in a group…' [2]), indicates that the site is much earlier than the others nearby, or whether it means that the local ancient pottery style continued in use until the early first millennium AD, is not clear from the evidence available. The latter hypothesis should be preferred unless and until some other local massive roundhouse is clearly dated to the 8th-6th centuries BC.

Finds [2 and 4]

Bone items included 14 pointed and other implements and 1 fragment of a needle.

Stone tools included fragments of rotary querns, several 'grain rubbers' (which could be the mullers of saddle querns), 1 whorl, 4 roughly chipped discs (pot lids?), from 6.5-11cm (2.5-4.5in) in diameter, 1 bead and 1 pebble 5cm (2in) in diameter with a hollow pecked in one face. This last could be a palm protector for use when pushing an awl or needle through tough material (see Dun Ardtreck, NG33 2).

Amber? 1 ring-bead.

Pottery: there were enough potsherds to reconstruct one large vessel of plain, gritty ware with a slightly everted rim having a row of shallow impressions under it [2, fig. 2].

Dimensions: internal diameter 7.93m (26ft), external c. 15.86m (52ft); the wall proportion is therefore 50%. In 1971 a survey of the central court showed that this had been laid out very close to an exact circle with a radius of 3.95 +/- 0.03m (diam. 7.90 m).

Sources: 1. NMRS site no. ND 36 SE 3.00: 2. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 27 (1892-93) 42-44 (pot): 3. Anderson 1901, 127: 4. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 43 (1908-9), 13 (more finds): 5. RCAHMS 1911b, 156-7, no. 516, fig. 40 and pl. 52: 6. Childe 1943, 16: 7. Young 1962, 184: 8. Batey (ms) 1981, nos. 98 and 100 (plan): 9. Swanson (ms) 1985, 586-89 and plan: 10. Baines 1999, 81-2: 11. Heald and Jackson 2001, 129-47.

E W MacKie 2007

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