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Buchlyvie, 'fairy Knowe'

Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Cist (Prehistoric), Roundhouse (Prehistoric)

Site Name Buchlyvie, 'fairy Knowe'

Classification Broch (Iron Age)(Possible), Cist (Prehistoric), Roundhouse (Prehistoric)

Alternative Name(s) Fairy Knoll; Mains Of Buchlyvie

Canmore ID 44651

Site Number NS59SE 3

NGR NS 58564 94259

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating


Ordnance Survey licence number AC0000807262. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2023.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Kippen
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS59SE 3 58564 94259

Fairy Knowe [NAT]

OS (GIS) MasterMap, July 2010.

See also NS69SW 3.

The Fairy Knowe, or Knoll (Chrystal 1903), a small green mound south of Mains of Buchlyvie, appears to have been a tumulus. Some human bones, enclosed in a cist(s), were lately (1796) found in it Statistical Account (OSA 1796).

OSA 1796; W Chrystal 1903.

NS 5856 9425. This natural knoll shows no signs of artificial work. The tenant of Mains of Buchlyvie confirmed that the mound is known locally as 'The Fairy Knowe'.

Visited by OS (D S), 29 March 1957.

Cist, Mains of Buchlyvie, (Site): Close to the S side of the road from Kippen to Buchlyvie, there is a natural mound which measures 180ft in length from E-W, 120ft in breadth, and 18ft in height. It is recorded that a stone cist containing human bones was found in it (see 2 above).

RCAHMS 1963.

A broch was discovered by excavation in 1976 and further investigation took place in 1977. The walls stand to a height of just over one metre and are 5.4m thick enclosing a circular occupation area 8.15m in diameter. Roman finds suggest a date of 1st/early2nd Century AD.

L Main 1975; L Main 1976.


Field Visit (September 1978)

Fairey Knowe, Buchlyvie NS 585 942 NS59SE

Excavation has shown that this broch measures about 19.2m in diameter over a wall 5.4m thick and occupies the site of an earlier timber round-house. Finds from the broch, and C.14 dating, indicate that it was occupied during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

RCAHMS 1979, visited September 1978

(DES, 1975, 53; DES, 1976, 62; DES, 1977, 36; DES, 1978, 2)

Note (1979)

'Fairy Knowe', Buchlyvie NS 585 942 NS59SE 3

A cist containing an inhumation was found in this natural mound in the 18th century. This is probably the same site as the 'tumulus near to the railway line', in which 'was found "an auld can" and some coins', mentioned by Madagan.


(Stat Acct, xviii, 1796, 329; Madagan 1872, 36; Madagan 1884, 20; RCAHMS 1963, p. 65, nos. 40 and 41)

Publication Account (2007)

NS59 2 BUCHLYVIE (‘Fairy Knowe’)

NS/5856 9425

This probable solid-based broch with earlier timber roundhouse in Kippen was, like its neighbour Leckie (NS69 2), completely unknown until the 1970s. In 1976 the foundations of the building were found on top of what seems to be a natural knoll (apparently it is part of the terminal moraine of the late glacial Loch Lomond (final) re-advance of the ice sheets [7, 293].) – known locally as ‘The Fairy Knowe’ – beside the road just east of Buchlyvie, during a rescue excavation. The mound was apparently to be removed during road widening but still exists. The work has been fully published [7] so only a brief account is given here, but with a listing of the more important finds. Judging from the high quality of many of these finds Buchlyvie appears to have been another of the Central Mainland brochs which housed a high-status family in the Iron Age. Judging from the state of destruction of the wall it could also be another – like Leckie (below) – which was destroyed by the Roman army in about AD 140, although the dating evidence is different from that of its neighbour (see ‘Discussion’).

It is a pity that none of the section drawings [7, 307] are published with the report. It is true that, judging from the photographs, only about 0.5 - 1.0m of stony debris overlay the wall foundations but the example of Leckie (below) shows that valuable information about the history of sites like these can be gained from a careful analysis of such layers.

1. Description

The mound itself is close to the southern edge of the flat carselands of the Forth Valley, which formed a vast area of marsh until they were drained near the end of the 18th century. There are extensive views from the top of the mound.

The timber roundhouse. An ‘almost circular’ ring of eleven post-holes – with a diameter of about 8m – was found just within the inner face of the broch wall, and some were actually half overlain by the facing blocks. Measuring from the centres of the post-holes on the plan [7, Illus. 7], the diameter seems to vary between about 7.97m - 8.44m. Angle and distance measurements on site are needed to establish (a) the circularity of the ring and (b) the radius of the best-fitting circle, but regrettably the author did not do this at Leckie either. Some oak post-stumps still remained in these holes [7, Illus. 4] and one of these was dated, giving a slightly earlier age than the three other dates from the broch floor deposits. A ring groove was found to join some of the holes (putting the structure firmly into the Iron Age roundhouse tradition of south-east Scotland). It is possible that some of the features of the broch floor may in fact belong to this roundhouse, although no finds could be clearly attributed to it. It is suggested that the life-span of the upright posts of such a house is not likely to have been much more than about twenty years [7, 301 - 02].

The broch. The structure – which nowhere stood above 1.5m in height – is large and relatively massive, the overall diameter being 19.2m and that of the central court being 8.2m. The basal courses of the outer face are made of massive sandstone blocks whereas those of the inner face are of smaller, flat slabs. The remains of the paved entrance were found, facing east, but there were no surviving traces of any door-frame, although a row of low slabs on edge set into the floor 65cm from the outer end should be a sill stone and mark the position of the door. A thin layer of black earth lay on the paving stones (which themselves underlay the sides of the passage) and yielded a few artifacts, including a fragment of samian ware. What may be the fragmentary remains of a guard chamber were noted to the left of the passage.

There were traces of only one other intra-mural feature – at 3 o’clock – and this is described as a small chamber with a paved floor 60cm above that of the court and a doorway leading – by way of two steps – down to the court. On the plan it looks a very unusual chamber in that it hardly widens from the doorway along the wall in either direction. The author saw it one weekend in 1976 and immediately concluded that it was the doorway to the intra-mural stair, with only the lowest step remaining. Two photographs show this step clearly and there can be little doubt about the nature of the feature. It is however unusual in that – unlike Leckie – there is no stair-foot guard cell

The design of the central court – all of which was excavated – seems to have been fairly straightforward [7, Illus. 13 and 14]. There were extensive paved areas which from the plan seem to have been mainly in the peripheral zone, up to about 1.6m from the inner wallface immediately inside the entrance [7, Illus. 13]. A rotary quern was incorporated in the paving. The usual claims have been made for the ‘ritual significance’ of querns re-used in this way (Hingley 1993) but it is hard to imagine hard evidence in favour of this idea, apart from that excavated at the Machair Leathann wheelhouse (NF87 5). A handy flat stone reused as a floor slab seems equally plausible. A stone-built, kerbed (part of the kerb had been destroyed in ancient times) rectangular fire-place was in the centre – accompanied by ash deposits – but the existence of a ring of post-holes at the inner edge of the paving is uncertain, apparently because of some mishap in the excavation procedure [7, 307]. Much of the primary floor of the court and the entrance was covered with a black layer which included burnt animal bones and carbonised grain and many artifacts.

Destruction by fire. Clear evidence for the violent destruction of the broch was found. The burnt material in the black layer has already been mentioned but there were also fragments of vitrified stone. Some of the artifacts in the black layer showed evidence of heating, such as pieces of Roman bottle glass and samian sherds. The quantities of molten lead found could be the result of a destructive fire, and some of the fragments of fired clay looked like burnt daub. The excavator was unable to deduce whether the fire that caused all this destruction was accidental or deliberate [7, 310]. She mentions also that the broch wall itself had been almost completely dismantled after the fire – including the removal of the foundation course and the rubble core in the north-west quadrant – but did not connect the two events.

2. Specialist reports

Reports by specialists on the botanical material, the animal bones, the Iron Age and Roman pottery, the medieval and post medieval pottery, on objects of fired clay, on Roman glass and on the copper alloy (bronze) finds (both the artifacts and the metals of which they were made) are included in the report.

Taphonomy. The distribution of the artifacts inside the broch was analysed by F Hunter to find out whether any patterns could be seen, but this task was hampered by the fact that only half the artifacts had their exact find spots recorded [7, 395]. Moreover the nature of the black, burnt layer suggested that the objects in it may reflect the events accompanying the destruction of the broch rather than the everyday life inside it before that event; if there was a raised wooden floor, or more than one, items may also have fallen down from these upper levels, further confusing the pattern. It is not surprising therefore that, other than the rather obvious inference that different parts of the house may have been used in different ways, few definite conclusions could be drawn from this set of data. The same vague hint of patterns emerges when the data is reviewed for any signs of ritual deposition of intact finds. Clearly a site with more complete data is needed (see Leckie – NS69 2 below).

3. Radiocarbon dates

Four dates were obtained as follows; with each is the equivalent calibrated date to two standard deviations rather than the more usual one.

GU 1244 2030 +/- 110, or 400 BC - AD 250

Charcoal from post-hole 93, roundhouse

GU 1107 1870 +/- 180, or 400 BC - AD 550

Seed charcoal from black layer 4, broch interior

GU 1108 1750 +/-110, or AD 1 - AD 550

Charcoal layer 4, as above

GU 1109 1740 +/- 110, or AD 1 - AD 550

Charcoal from post-hole 93, roundhouse

4. Discussion

Native pottery. Only two sherds were found in all, very probably indicating an aceramic material culture. Such fragments could easily be strays from some earlier occupation.

Roman finds. Of great importance, not only for the dating of this site but also for any explanations of the evidence for extensive Roman contact, is the fact that only late first century (Flavian) samian sherds were found here. This contrasts with neighbouring Leckie where mid 2nd century (Antonine) wares were also found. Since there is no archaeological evidence from the site itself that Buchlyvie broch was reoccupied after the destructive fire and demolition of the building, the date of this violent end to its occupation could have occurred towards the end of the Flavian occupation of southern Scotland (c. AD 80 - 100) or soon after. If it occurred later, at the start of the Antonine period (c. AD 140) as probably happened at Leckie, no mid second century Roman objects had yet reached the site. The absence of Roman material from the first decades of the second century from both sites suggests to the author that both suffered destruction at the start of the Antonine reoccupation.

The fragments of Roman glass bottles all seem to be of the cylindrical type which became common in Flavian times and which ceased production entirely between about AD 100 - 120 [7, 336 - 37].

Copper alloy artifacts. The assemblage of ‘bronze’ artifacts from Buchlyvie includes several high-status objects such as the tankard handle, the spiral finger-ring and the penannular brooches. Of particular interest is the finger-ring with an enamelled bezel – a native copy (enamelled bronze work is a characteristic British pre-Roman Iron Age skills) of a Roman form and made of reused Roman metal. Even after the ring had been broken there is evidence that it continued in use; one of the broken ends was smoothed. An up-to-date map of the known distribution [7, Illus. 21] shows it to be a specifically northern type, concentrated in north-east Scotland north of the Forth/Clyde gap and up to south-east Sutherland.

Analysis by D Dungworth of the composition of the metal of thirty-two of the copper alloy artifacts (mostly fragments of sheet bronze) revealed some interesting patterns. Of the two penannular brooches one was made of almost pure copper and the other of brass – that is, a copper and zinc alloy. Since zinc (like lead) is unknown in the north before Roman times this brooch should not be earlier than AD 80.

Most of the artifacts analysed contained varying proportions of tin, zinc and lead so are also of the Roman period. However when compared with the comparable evidence from other Roman period sites in the north the material from Buchlyvie shows that unleaded bronze is commoner at this site than elsewhere, suggesting that much of the metal cast there was residual from pre-Conquest times, when there was no zinc (for brass) or lead. Against this view is the absence of arsenic and Dungworth prefers to explain the relative absence of brass as a cultural preference.

Lead artifacts. Lead was almost certainly not available in Iron Age Scot-land before the Romans arrived so the relatively large quantities found at Buchlyvie should have been obtained by trading with the invaders, or have been gifts from them. Potentially important is the discovery of a fragment of melted lead under the paving of the entrance; this ought to be a sign that the broch itself was built after about AD 80.

Destruction of the broch. The situation at Buchlyvie is similar to that at Leckie (below) and at Hurly Hawkin, described earlier. Only the low stump of the broch remains of each and parts of the wall were entirely missing. All produced an unusual number of high-status finds, several intact, giving the impression of a sudden interruption of daily life, and in the two which had not been previously disturbed clear destruction layers were found in which were many traces of fire. All look as if they had been captured and torn down by a ruthless enemy and they contrast strikingly with Torwood (NS88 1) which is much better preserved on its hilltop but which produced hardly any finds; it was presumably abandoned and fell gradually into ruin.

As is summarised later the evidence from Leckie can be interpreted in terms of an actual Roman assault on the broch at the beginning of the Antonine re-occupation in about AD 140 and it is tempting to infer the same for Buchlyvie, which is only a few miles to the west. The absence of any Antonine material, in contrast to Leckie, is explicable if the destruction happened immediately upon the reappearance of the Roman army, and if the site was abandoned thereafter.

6. The finds

Many of the most important finds are illustrated with the report and those drawings are reproduced here. However it is very difficult to work from the numbered drawings back to the finds catalogues as the object numbers – presumably the original field numbers – occur in random order in the drawings. These have therefore been renumbered here, to make it easier to find any particular item (the original field numbers are given in brackets in the descriptive entries). The following lists are also divided by site phase.

The new numbers on the drawings are given here at the beginning of each reference – as ‘{3}’, etc. Most of the material comes from Phase 3 and the complete list of the numbers of the drawn objects – from {1} to {141} – is in this section, with an indication when the entry is actually under another Phase. The descriptions are only summaries of those in the report.

Phase 1: wooden roundhouse

(or, presumably, broch construction)

Lead [7, 352-3]

–– Melted fragment found under a paving stone in the entrance passage.

Phase 2: broch occupation

Native pottery [7, 321]

{1} A wall sherd with a plain cordon (401).

Roman glass [7, 335-7]

{16} Part of the reeded handle of a bottle (77).

Roman coin [7, 346-7]

–– Bronze as of Vespasian (AD 69-79) (145).

Copper alloy [7, 318-44]

{23} Probable finger-ring, but penannular (136).

{30} A strip of sheet bronze (524A).

{33} Folded trapezoidal sheet (319).

{45} Rod made of rolled sheet (408).

Iron [7, 356-370]

{60} Fragment of a spear blade (300).

{65} Awl with a shank with rectangular cross-section (134).

{70} Fragment of a tool (299).

{80} Fragment of hook (197).

{81} Broken rod (292).

{83} Loop-ended strip with rectangular cross-section (137).

{87} Key for lifting a latch (‘lift key’) (309).

{91} Mass of corrosion formed from many tacks with domed heads, presumably in a bag (516).

Stone [7, 377-90]

{115} Spindle whorl (310).

{116} Spindle whorl or small weight (439).

{117} Shale ring or pendant (248).

{126} Small mortar (473).

{130} Pecked hammer stone (422).

{133} Counter (308).

Phase 3: broch destruction

Native pottery (Illus. 10.00) [7, 321]

–– a base sherd (433) (not. illus.).

Roman pottery [7, 321-5]

{1} See Phase 2.

{2} Complete profile of vessel Drag. 22/23, Flavian (13).

{3} Decorated wall sherd Drag. 29, Flavian (87, 389).

{4} Complete profile of Drag. 22/23, Flavian (243).

{5} Wall sherd of Drag. 30 or 37, Flavian (455).

{6} Foot ring and base of a flagon (225).

{7} Rim of a flagon (341).

{8} Dish imitating ‘Pompeian red ware’ (307).

{13} Fragment of a mortarium, Verulamium region white ware (311).

{14} Another, north Gaulish (334).

Several other samian sherds were not drawn [7, 321-25].

Roman coin [7, 346-7]

–– Bronze as of Vespasian (AD 69-79) (335).

Fired clay [7, 332]

{9} Disc (66).

{10} Probable bead (85).

{11} A whorl or bead (101).

{12} A clay ball (475).

Roman glass [7, 335-7]

{15} Fragment of a bottle rim, Flavian (38).

{16} see Phase 2.

{17} Gaming counter, plain (253).

Native glass and enamel [7, 337 and 338]

{18} Small annular ring-bead of opaque yellow glass (397).

–– small, globular bead of deep blue glass (55) (not. illus.).

__ See {22} below for enamelled finger-ring.

Copper alloy [7, 318-44]

{19} Shank of a pin with a bent upper part (broken off) (20).

{20} Penannular brooch of Fowler type Aa (47).

{21} Hoop of a penannular brooch of Fowler type A3 (322).

{22} Finger-ring with enamelled bezel, the pattern of red and yellow (49) [7, Illus. 20].

{23} See Phase 2.

{24} Oval plate or clasp (48A).

{25} Spiral finger-ring with 3.75 turns and decorative nicks (332).

{26} Decorative handle, probably of a wooden tankard (283).

{27} See Phase 4 below.

{28} 2 flat crescentic strips of sheet bronze (18).

{29} An angled staple (51A).

{30} See Phase 2.

{31} Fragment of sheet bronze (50).

{32} Fragments of a flat strip of sheet (120B).

{33} See Phase 2.

{34} Folded sheet (466).

{35} Sheet (118).

{36} ‘Paper clip’ rivet (412).

{37} Rolled sheet of riveted bronze (18B).

{38} Another (48B).

{39} Strip (97).

{40} Rolled sheet with rivet hole (155).

{41} Sheet with a rivet hole (120A).

{42} See Phase 4.

{43} Curved sheet binding (57).

{44} Rod with square cross-section (59).

{45} See Phase 2.

{46} Small penannular ring (331).

{47} Rod with a head with rectangular cross-section (63).

{48} Hooked loop (313).

{49} Point with round cross-section (28).

Lead [7, 352-3]

{50} Strip (53).

{51} Bar with square cross-section (141).

{52} Sheet fragment (203).

{53} Strip (315).

{54} Bar with square cross-section (174).

{55} Sheet, re-worked (333).

{56} Cone-shaped object – a weight (438)

{57} Irregular cone-shape – a weight (522)

–– Many melted fragments.

Iron [7, 356-70]

{58} Shank with round cross-section, probably a pin (114).

{59} Head of a ring-headed pin (373).

{60} See Phase 2.

{61} Socketed spear head with open, i.e. split, socket) (98A).

{62} Knobbed ferrule – copy of the butt of a Roman javelin (451)

{63} Broken tool – a punch (207E)

{64) Small knife blade (84).

{65} See Phase 2.

{66} Broken knife blade (272).

{67} Large, angled blade, probably a sickle (3).

{68} See ‘iron-working’ below.

{69} A pair of compasses in the form of an X, hinged in the centre (394).

{70} See Phase 2.

{71} Small chisel or punch (435).

{72} Broken end of a heavy, parallel-sided blade – a small axe or adze (441).

{73} Penannular ring with a rectangular cross-section (4).

{74} Hemispherical object (99B).

{75} Bent strip with a looped end – a handle (123)

{76} Draw plate, for making metal wire (121).

{77} Flat rod with rectangular cross-section (988).

{78} Paring chisel (463).

{79} Penannular ring with terminals (157).

{80 and 81} See Phase 2.

{82} Tapering shank with circular cross-section (109C).

{83} See Phase 2.

{84} Fragment of a ring (183).

{85} Tack with an ornamental domed head (200).

{86} Tack with a pyramidal domed head (244).

{87} See Phase 2.

{88} Looped fitting (323).

{89} Small nail (91A).

{90} Small nail (367).

{91} See Phase 2.

{92} See Phase 4.

Iron working [7, 370]

{68} Bloom from the base of a furnace (394).

Bronze working) [7, 371]

{101} Large crucible containing about 220 cc, suitable for casting objects like spiral armlets (72).

{102} Mould valve for a bar or blade (500).

{102} Another (500).

{103} Mould fragment (62).

{104} Divider fragment (501).

{105} Crucible rim fragment (277).

{106} Mould valve for a bar or blade (470 + 256A).

{107} Mould fragment (42A).

{108} Mould valve fragment (498).

{109} Part of a heating tray (193)

{110} Divider fragment (497).

{111} Part of the lip and neck of a funnel or mould gate (42B).

Stone [7, 377-90]

{112} Perforated weight, burnt, made from a felsite pebble and with a pecked, hourglass hole (1).

{113} Sandstone weight with a pecked hourglass perforation (80).

{114} Perforated sandstone weight with pecked hourglass perforation (128).

{115, 116, 117} See Phase 2.

{118} Possible pendant of sandstone (268).

{119} Serpentine ring (304).

{120} Bracelet fragment of cannel coal (409).

{121} Grooved ball (312).

{122} Serpentine ring (305).

{123} Sandstone pebble used as a rubber (241).

{124} Sandstone small mortar (302)

{125} Fragment of base of bowl of tremolite schist (29).

{126} See Phase 2.

{127} Fragment of a cup-shaped handled lamp of talc-tremolite-schist, care-fully worked smooth all over; the handle is perforated (125).

{128} See Phase 4.

{129} Fragment of upper stone of a discoid rotary quern of coarse schistose grit (126).

–– A complete upper stone of garnetiferous-biotite-muscovite-schist – now missing – was found used as part of the primary broch paving.

{130} See Phase 2.

{131} Narrow rubbing-stone made from a pebble of schistose grit (240).

{132} A pebble hammerstone or grinder (162).

{133} See Phase 2.

{134} A wide, flat, whetstone (16).

{135} Polisher (152).

Amber (not illus.) [7, 390]

–– 3 fragments, one with part of a flat base and a rounded corner (340) (there is a similar-sounding bead from Dun Ardtreck, Skye (NG33 2) – not published at the time – which is approximately triangular and with rounded corners and perforated through the flat faces (MacKie 2002, Illus. 28, bottom left)).

–– 7 fragments from a bead, apparently in the form of a slightly swollen cylinder with rounded ends (518).

Bone and antler (Illus. 10.00) [7, 000]

{136} The tip of a burnt point (39A).

{137} Another (39B).

{138} Handle made from an antler tine (325).

{139} Cylinder of antler (195).

{140} The tip of a burnt point (83).

{141} Cylindrical bone handle, corroded (520).

Probably Phase 3

Iron nails [7, 363-65]

{93-100} A total of 192 nails were found, the vast majority having square-section shanks and rectangular or sub-rectangular flat heads. The other small groups of different types are mentioned separately above but the large nails are not allocated to Phases (115, 170, 186, 208, 421, 21, 407, 21 (aga in)).

Phase 4: later debris and unstratified

Copper alloy [7, 318-44]

{27} Finger-ring with an openwork bezel in the triskele pattern (534). Found at the base of the mound with a metal detector.

{42} Sheet binding, bent into a U-section (267).

Iron [7, 356-370]

{92} Large nail (495).

Stone [7, 377-90]

{128} Fragment of upper stone of a discoid rotary quern of schistose grit (449). Unstratified.

5. Dimensions

The maximum overall diameter is 19.2m, the diameter of the court is 8.2m and the broch wall varies in thickness from 5.4 - 5.5m. The wall proportion is therefore about 56.7%, fairly massive.

Sources: 1. NMRS site no. NS 59 SE 3: 2. RCAHMS 1963, vol. 1, 65, no. 41: 3. Breeze 1980, 46-7: 4. Breeze 1982, 140-44: 5. Boyd 1983: 6. Macinnes 1985: 7. Main 1998; 8. Armit 2003. Many other passing references are listed [1].

E W MacKie 2007


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