Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC2837: Mainland, Yesnaby, Brough of Bigging  

(Yescanaby)

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HER:  Orkney Islands 1693

NMR:  HY 21 NW 7 (1693)

SM:  6214

NGR:  HY 2194 1574

X:  321940  Y:  1015740  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

This fort occupies a cliff-girt promontory which has almost been reduced to an isolated stack by the erosion of the narrow neck linking its NW end to the mainland. Some 60m long, this neck is now no more than 25m wide at its seaward end, where a wall reduced to a bank about 4m in thickness by 0.5m in height cuts across its spine behind a shallow natural depression. At the landward end of the neck on the SE a deep natural gully that descends almost to the level of the shore has been adopted as a ditch outside a second wall, which has again been reduced to little more than a grass-grown bank and measures up to 5m in thickness by 0.4m in height. Another bank on the landward lip of the gully may be the remains of an additional rampart, though Raymond Lamb thought this was the remains of a later wall associated with a rectangular building at its NE end (1980, 77). The exact position of the entrance through the defences is uncertain; Lamb again thought there was a gap in the centre of the inner (1980, 22, fig 7), but the upright slabs the OS surveyor interpreted as part of a gatehouse or forework in front of it have been identified more recently by RCAHMS investigators as the remains of a rectangular building and the gap may be no more than disturbance. Both Lamb and the OS surveyor placed the entrance through the second wall in a gap towards its NE end. The interior is largely featureless, measuring about 180m from NE to SW by 75m transversely (1.21ha), rising westwards to a broad summit surmounted by a marker cairn and a modern drystone enclosure, but a small structure with two kerbstones can be seen in the cliff-edge 20m SW of the modern marker cairn on its summit. This was interpreted by the RCAHMS investigators as the remains of a cairn and geophysical survey by Orkney College revealed anomalies here and where burnt material was observed eroding out of the cliff.

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -374178  Y:  8185071  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -3.361298  Latitude:  59.021664  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Orkney Islands

Historic County:   Orkney

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Sandwick

Condition

Extant:  
Cropmark:  
Likely Destroyed:  

Land Use

Woodland:  
Commercial Forestry Plantation:  
Parkland:  
Pasture (Grazing):  
Arable:  
Scrub/Bracken:  
Bare Outcrop:  
Heather/Moorland:  
Heath:  
Built-up:  
Coastal Grassland:  
Other:  

Landscape

Hillfort Type

Contour Fort:  
Partial Contour Fort:  
Promontory Fort:  
Hillslope Fort:  
Level Terrain Fort:  
Marsh Fort:  
Multiple Enclosure Fort:  

Topographic Position

Hilltop:  
Coastal Promontory:  
Inland Promontory:  
Valley Bottom:  
Knoll/Hillock/Outcrop:  
Ridge:  
Cliff/Plateau-edge/Scarp:  
Hillslope:  
Lowland:  
Spur:  

Dominant Topographic Feature:  

Aspect

North:  
Northeast:  
East:  
Southeast:  
South:  
Southwest:  
West:  
Northwest:  
Level:  

Elevation

Altitude:  30.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

In the absence of excavation, there are neither stratified artefacts nor radiocarbon dates to provide a chronology for the defences.

Reliability:  D - None

Pre 1200BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
400BC - AD50:  
AD50 - AD400:  
AD400 - AD 800:  
Post AD800:  
Unknown:  

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✓  

None:  No details.

Investigations

Named on the 1st edition OS 6-inch map (Orkney 1880, sheet 100), but not as an antiquity. Photographed by RCAHMS Aerial Survey Programme in 2009.

1st Identified Written Reference (1841):  Noted (NSA, 15, Orkney, 54)
Other (1928):  Description (RCAHMS 1946, ii, 269, no.730)
Earthwork Survey (1970):  Description by Raymond Lamb (1980, 22 fig 7, 77; RCAHMS ORD 197/1)
1st Identified Map Depiction (1973):  Surveyed at 1:2500 by the OS
Other (1981):  Revisited and photographed by Lamb
Geophysical Survey (2010):  By Orkney College (Moore 2010)
Other (2013):  Description by RCAHMS
Other (2014):  Scheduled

Interior Features

Largely featureless apart from the structure with two kerbstones

Water Source

None:  
Spring:  
Stream:  
Pool:  
Flush:  
Well:  
Other:  

Surface

Small kerbed structure

No Known Features:  
Round Stone Structures:  
Rectangular Stone Structures:  
Curvilinear Platforms:  
Other Roundhouse Evidence:  
Pits:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  

Excavation

No Known Excavation:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Geophysics

several minor anomalies

No Known Geophysics:  
Pits:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Finds

No Known Finds:  
Pottery:  
Metal:  
Metalworking:  
Human Bones:  
Animal Bones:  
Lithics:  
Environmental:  
Other:  

Aerial

NO APPARENT FEATURES

APs Not Checked:  
None:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Other:  

Entrances

See main summary

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:  1:  Must be across the isthmus on the SE

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (Southeast):  Simple Gap:  Through outer wall

Enclosing Works

At least two walls cutting off a promontory, possibly representing two separate periods of enclosure

Enclosed Area 1:  1.21ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  1.41ha.
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  1.4ha.

Total Footprint Area:  1.41ha.

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✗  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✗  

Number of Ramparts:  2

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  2
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  

Current Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  
Unknown:  

Multi-period Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:  
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  

Surface Evidence

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Rubble:  
Wall-walk:  
Evidence of Timber:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
Other:  

Excavated Evidence

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Murus Duplex:  
Timber-framed:  
Timber-laced:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
No Known Excavation:  
Other:  

Gang Working

Gang Working:  ✗ 

Ditches

Ditches:  

Number of Ditches:  

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Lamb, R G (1980) Iron Age promontory forts in the Northern Isles. Brit Archaeol Rep, British Ser 79. BAR: Oxford

Moore, J (2010) 'Brough of Bigging, Orkney (Sandwick parish), geophysical survey'. Disc Exc Scot, New Ser, 11 (2010), 126

NSA (1834-1845) The New Statistical Account of Scotland by the ministers of the respective parishes under the superintendence of a committee of the society for the benefit of the sons and daughters of the clergy, 15v. Edinburgh

RCAHMS (1946) The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Twelfth report with an inventory of the ancient monuments of Orkney and Shetland, 3v. HMSO: Edinburgh

Terms of Use

The online version of the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland should be cited as:

Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017.  Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

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