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Caithness Field Club 

Caithness Field Club Bulletin 1993


A burnt mound is a heap of heat-cracked stones, perhaps 1.5 m high and usually a single mound will be found near a stream. Carbon dates show that many burnt mounds in higher ground were abandoned after 1159 BC when volcanic debris caused global cooling. The purpose of the hot stones is presumed to be for dunking into a water-filled hollow to create boiling water for cooking or for saunas. When large cooking pots became available there would be no need for hot stones for cooking.

Saunas would appear improbable, yet in Ireland, sweathouses remained in use as a medical treatment, at least for rheumatism, until dispensaries arrived in 1851, and some were used up to the 1930s. The sweathouses were small stone buildings with a 2ft square door. They were preheated by lighting a fire inside, then the patients would enter and stay as long as the heat was bearable, before emerging into a stream. There are 78 sweathouses in County Lietrim alone.

About 1820, Henry Francis Fynn was cured of Deloga fever in East Africa by being placed by native women in a heated pit which broke the fever, so the  Irish sweathouses may also have cured life-threatening conditions. (Ref p30, Febana, by E.P.Watt, Gooderlian 1962)

I would expect sweathouses to have been built in Scotland, so we should look again at small huts close to streams.

Published in 1993 Bulletin