Archaeologists to begin search for prehistoric "hut-circle landscape" in north-east Scotland

By Ben Miller | 27 May 2015

Archaeologists ask for public help in search for more evidence of prehistoric communities in Scotland

An overhead laser photo showing an overhead view of a landscape in red and white
Archaeologists in Caithness will use LiDAR data to gain a bird's-eye view of the landscape© AOC Archaeology
Airborne laser scanning and light detection techniques will be used by archaeologists who believe early evidence of prehistoric circle-huts is the “tip of the iceberg” across the heritage landscape of Caithness in north-east Scotland.

Ahead of the launch of a community archaeology project taking Bronze Age artefacts as a starting point, organisers at the Castletown Heritage Society say they “can’t wait” to begin a series of surveys and excavations making the most of “cutting-edge” technology.

“Archaeological research in Caithness has, to date, tended to focus on the late prehistoric, Iron Age, medieval and later periods,” says Graeme Cavers, of AOC Archaeology.

“Where investigation of earlier prehistory has been carried out this has focused on the chambered cairns of the county. However, a recent Light Detecting and Ranging survey has shown that these visible remains are simply the tip of the iceberg.

“It has identified extensive and previously unrecorded traces of prehistoric settlement and agriculture in a previously unrecognised component of the Caithness landscape.

An overhead laser photo showing an overhead view of a landscape in green and brown
This scan shows post-medieval clearance cairns overlying traces of prehistoric agriculture© AOC Archaeology
“The unrecorded archaeological remains include traces of what can be termed the ‘hut-circle landscape’, usually made up of Bronze and Iron Age settlement and subsequent veneers of Late Iron Age and later occupations and land-use.

“The only hut-circle excavated in Caithness, lying in the hinterland around Loch Shurrery, dates from the 4th century BC.

“However, significant clusters of agricultural remains and associated structures surrounding chambered cairns would suggest the possibility of domestic activity relating to the period of their use, in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages.

“As such, this project offers the opportunity to investigate the daily lives of the people who built some of prehistoric Europe’s most sophisticated burial chambers.

“It represents an exciting opportunity to make the most of an exciting digital resource while writing a new chapter on the ancient landscape of Caithness.”

The work will be based at Castlehill Heritage Centre, the home of a society established in 1986 to preserve the history and traditions of its village and the Parish of Olrig.

Archaeologists will outline their knowledge to the public in an opening event followed by a day of activities, including the establishment of a prehistoric-style dwelling and flint-knapping by craftsman James Dilley.

Project participants will enjoy “comprehensive” training on a wide range of techniques, from site identification and find recording to practical field work and surveying.

  • A Window on the Hidden Bronze Age Landscape of Caithness launches on June 4 2015 at the Heritage Centre. Visit aocarchaeology.com/bronzeagecaithness for details. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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