by David Findlay (NOSAS)
These excavations, in April and July 2014, were led by Candy Hatherley and form part of the University of Aberdeen Northern Picts Project. Cnoc Tigh (see also our earlier blog entry) and Tarlogie Dun are Iron Age round houses situated on the north coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross. They are both on the high ground about 200m back from the coast giving them spectacular views across the Dornoch Firth to Sutherland and up the Sutherland coast. Neither site is naturally defensive and, though both have watercourses to one side creating a gorge and a steep bank to the sea on another side, that still leaves two sides open to the surrounding countryside.
They differ from the three duns excavated by the Aberdeen University Team in 2013 in that these were all on the south side of the Tarbat Peninsular and were relatively defensible due to the natural features, although Tarrel is overlooked by the cliff on the landward side.
Both Cnoc Tigh and Tarlogie appear to date from about 400 BC with occupation at Tarlogie lasting for 800 years to about 400AD. I do not know of any dates yet for the latest occupancy at Cnoc Tigh although I understand that suitable charcoal samples have been taken for dating.
The 2014 excavations at both sites reveal severely robbed and damaged stone walls; there are discernible facing walls in a few locations but largely only the fill remains. Both sites show a lot of evidence of the structures changing with time.
Cnoc Tigh is about 14 to 15 meters in diameter with walls that have been considerably thickened over the years. It appears to have a narrow entrance about one metre wide in the south west. An unusual feature was a ledge along the visible inner face of the wall just above ground level, rather like a scarcement ledge in a broch. This could have been to support a timber floor just above the ground which may explain why there is very little evidence of a floor and associated debris at ground level. I understand that there were no ancient finds at Cnoc Tigh.
Tarlogie is a larger and even more disrupted structure than Cnoc Tigh. It has an unusual splayed entrance to the east, probably not the original entrance. Several finds came out over the two sessions including quern stones, a soapstone cup/lamp fragment, slag, an orca tooth and part of an alloy broach provisionally dated to about 200 AD. Towards the centre of the floor area is a pivot stone and there were several hearths.
Oskar Sveinbjarnarson used his quadcopter to take aerial photos of both sites. We will all have to wait until later in the year to hear from Candy on any further progress and results from the finds and samples.
Oskar states about Tarlogie that “Radiocarbon dates from the site indicate that the dun was built during the Iron Age (c. 400-200 BC) and possibly abandoned. It has a re-occupation phase which dates to about 200-400 AD (Pictish).“