Archaeology

South Yarrows North chambered cairn looking towards the loch

South Yarrows North chambered cairn looking towards the loch

The Yarrows area is one of the best preserved and most significant prehistoric monumental landscapes in northern Scotland. It lies 4km inland from the eastern coast of Caithness, on the edge of the cultivated coastal strip and the inland expanses of peat and heather moorland. At the centre of the landscape is a large distinctively shaped loch, which is encircled on three sides by steep hills which are a prominent landscape features in Caithness; distinctively craggy, they are visible from as far south as Dunbeath and from many areas in the north and the west of the county. The loch and the surrounding hills are home to a complex of prehistoric monuments including the remains of burial monuments dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, monumental Iron Age and Pictish settlement structures, several stone rows and a pair of massive standing stones.

A map showing the location of archaeological sites around Yarrows is available at the bottom of this page.

 

South Yarrows South chambered cairn looking along the cairn

South Yarrows South chambered cairn looking along the cairn

The ruins of eight Neolithic chambered tombs can be found on the hills and lowlying land around the loch, with the site of a ninth cairn recorded on the north-eastern corner of the loch. The most spectacular of these monuments, South Yarrows South and North, and Warehouse North and South can be accessed from the Yarrows Trail. These four monuments were excavated by Joseph Anderson in 1865. He found that in all cases the central chamber contained fragments of human bone, sherds of pottery and pieces of worked flint. The pottery that was found in these chambers is of early Neolithic date and it is likely that these sites were being used for burials and other activities from around 4000 BC to 3000 BC.

 

 

 

Battle Moss stone rows during excavation in 2003.

Battle Moss stone rows during excavation in 2003.

The stone rows at Battle Moss and on the southern hills above the loch are thought to be Bronze Age in date and have been traditionally interpreted as burial sites or monuments to record astronomical events. Excavations by Anderson did not throw up any finds and his records of the investigations are limited. Recent excavations at Battle Moss, in 2003 and 2005, similarly did not produce any artefacts or dating material to confirm the presumed date, but did identify a small Bronze Age burial cairn at the northern end of the row, which is thought to be contemporary with the rows of standing stones. These enigmatic monuments have been variously interpreted as burial sites for warriors following battles and astronomical observatories, however recent work has suggested that they may have been referencing earlier monuments within the landscape.

The Iron Age Broch lies on the southern shore of the Loch, partly submerged by water, the level of which was artificially raised in the twentieth century. The Broch and settlement were excavated by Joseph Anderson in 1866 and 1867. The Broch lies at the centre of the complex, and comprises a massive circular tower with an intramural passage and staircase. The external settlement consists of at least 5 structures arranged around the outside of the Broch. These are later additions to the Broch site.

As well as the massive monumental sites, the Yarrows area contains less visible evidence for past human occupation. On the northern and eastern shores of the loch is the site of an extensive scatter of worked flint. This dates from the Mesolithic period (pre-4000 BC) to the early Bronze Age and contains tools and worked pieces that suggest that people were living in this part of the landscape. Roundhouses dating to the later Bronze Age can be found on the southern side of the loch, as well as the remains of later farmsteads and fields.

Yarrows archaeology map

Map showing the location of archaeological sites around Yarrows

 


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