Brotchie's Steading, Dunnet, Caithness: a 19th-century croft house and earlier settlement mound
Croft House, Bone, Pit, Radiocarbon Dates, Millennia, Settlement Mound, Worked Whale Mandible, Stone Rubble, Whale Bones, Cruck Blades
Dunnet; Caithness; Scotland; UK
early medieval, medieval, early modern, modern
Brotchie’s steading is a ruined croft house that is of particular interest because several large fragments
of worked whale mandible were recently recovered from one of the rooms. These were identified as
having supported the roof of the building as a pair of cruck blades (a Highland couple).
The excavation programme was initially designed to further examine the role of whale bones
as a construction material within the context of the Caithness croft house. Excavations in 2001
revealed a further element of in situ whale bone that enabled an informed reconstruction of the
original structure. The investigations on site also identified at least 1.5m of stratigraphy exposed
in the bank to the west of the site, indicating at least four phases of building beneath the ruined
Subsequent trial trenching determined that the bank upon which Brotchie’s steading now sits
is largely man-made and part of an extensive settlement mound. The base of the sequence, in the
southern part of the site, revealed what appears to have been an occupation surface, and material
from this provided a date in the range 390–170 BC. At the north end of the site a thick layer of stone
rubble associated with a clay- and stone-lined pit and two red deer antler picks was identified.
Radiocarbon determination of samples of antler and cow bone indicate further occupation of the
site in the first–third centuries ad. The overlying strata supported by a sequence of radiocarbon
dates and finds indicate that the site was also a focus of human activity in the fifth, 13th and 15th
centuries AD up until the early 20th century. While the full extent of the site is currently unknown,
the possibility presents itself that the adjacent knoll, upon which Dunnet Kirk now sits, forms a part
of a major archaeological site that has seen almost continuous, or at least regular, occupation for
over two millennia.