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Caithness Field Club Bulletin
Letters to the Editor
My paper on seven earthworks in our 1997 Bulletin suggested that they might have been built at an early date. I now know that at least one is more recent and was built to repress the Mackays. Page 148 of the "Book of MacKay", by Angus MacKay, Edinburgh 1906, held in Thurso Library: -
"On the 14th June, 1649, the Estates (Parliament) empowered the Earl of Sutherland to build and occupy with 100 soldiers a sconce in Strathnaver, and from an entry a few days later it appears that the monthly expense of the garrison amounted to £1114 13 s 6d.
The ruins of the sconce, which is horse-shoe shaped with the opening towards the river, may yet be seen about 100 yards below the burn of Langdale, Strathnaver, and close to the highway."
A sconce is a small fort, often an earthenwork. Written in 1906, the description is still true in 1998.
Re: Correspondence on Brochs and Cattle raiding.
The Hill Forts like Garrywhin and Promontory Forts such as St. Johns Point were clearly suitable for the gathering of cattle - for example an annual round-up. The circumference walls appear high enough to contain beasts rather than repel invaders and it has been calculated that 3000 men at least would have been needed to defend the Garrywhin site. This is totally unrealistic. I note that old Gaelic maps describe hill forts as BUAILE - a fold for cattle - a pen or stockade for beasts.
Some hill forts are thought to be from the Bronze Age but are generally acknowledged as belonging to the late Iron Age. The suggestion that brochs were designed as a defence against sea raiders does not hold water. Brochs were built around 100 BC whereas the first keel boats did not appear until 500 - 600 AD. Early Romans and Norsemen were the first early raiders by which time the use of brochs had diminished.
Excavations into many of the brochs have failed to find any warlike artefacts either inside or outside and by the end of the Iron Age many had extensive outer works intimating a change of use from a prestige watch tower to the first Community centres.
I conclude that, since the cattle raiding was not carried out from the sea it is likely that brochs were originally watch towers; a means of keeping an eye on neighbouring tribes.
Fossils in Thurso Museum
(CFB Vol 6 No 1, April 1997)
The following extract appeared in the Caithness Courier, 25 December 1925, under Local & District News;
"Mr W F Mackenzie, Librarian, begs to acknowledge with best thanks, the handsome gift of fossils, shells, etc, for the local Museum from Miss Miller, Scrabster House."
If Miss Miller was a descendant of the Mr John Miller who bought Robert Dick's fossils in 1863 it is just possible that at least some of Dick's original collection joined his later specimens in the local museum.
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