West Coast Archaeological Services
7 North Duntulm
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Summary of the archaeological sites
7 North Duntulm is located on the Trotternish Peninsula, seven miles northeast of the village of Uig on the Isle of Skye. The location is idyllic, situated just within the high tide level on the south side of Port Gobhlaig in Balmacqueen on Kilmaluag Bay. A small burn empties into the bay on the east side of the property.
The property contains extensive Post Medieval settlement ruins separated at the centre by a small water course. Cnoc a’ Chlachain is a prominent ridge in the skyline, visible across the gently rising landscape to the west-northwest. The undulating landscape to the south and east is at present in use for animal grazing, and the shoreline borders the site to the north.
7 North Duntulm, Isle of Skye: Location maps
Aerial image of 7 North Duntulm
Archaeological and Historical Background
7 North Duntulm was located in Balmacqueen in the historical parish of Kilmuir, which, according to the Old Statistical Account of Scotland of the 1790s and the New Statistical Account of Scotland of the 1830s, contained six so-called ‘Danish’ forts (Dun-Scuddeburgh, Liath, Bhannerain, Barplacaig, Tulm and Deirg). Indeed, the north half of Trotternish Peninsula contains a wealth of ancient archaeological sites, from the Mesolithic rock shelter at An Corran (dating from 7500 BC) through to Duntulm Castle, former seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat which was abandoned in the 18th century. At 7 North Duntulm, there is one prehistoric cairn located within the property and a second prehistoric cairn located a few metres from the burn that runs southeast of the property.
Historical records and maps show that Balmacqueen had already been settled by the early 1500s, when the site of the church of St Moluag, 100m west of 7 North Duntulm, was in use. The extensive archaeological remains at 7 North Duntulm are stone-built buildings which once formed part of the township of Balmacqueen. Six buildings at 7 North Duntulm are first recorded in the 1875-77 Ordnance Survey of Balmacqueen, although they are shown as mostly unroofed. The farmstead at 7 North Duntulm was probably first occupied in the earlymid 1800s.
Like many areas in the Highlands, Balmacqueen was affected by the changing economy in the 19th century. The Old Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799, gives interesting insight into the way of life probably experienced by the primary occupants of the houses at 7 North Duntulm. Rev. Martin describes a parish population of 2065, who subsisted on corn, barley and fishing (herring, cod, turbot, skate), practised animal husbandry and frequently lived to the age of 80. He also describes the challenges of life in Kilmuir: corn planting flourished but when the crop failed living conditions were dire. Sheep grazing was ‘disqualified’ due to the flatness of the terrain. The cost of labourers was high in proportion to the earnings of the farmers and most of the young men at the time were leaving the parish, to work in the south of the country where they could earn more money. Many families from Balmacqueen emigrated to America. In 1823, seven crofts were occupied on Lord Macdonald’s land at Balmacqueen. Lord MacDonald sold the land in 1855, and this may be the reason why the buildings at 7 North Duntulm were abandoned by their occupants for the first time.
Extract from the Ordnance Survey 1st edition 6-inch map (1878)
Archaeological survey and excavation of 7 North Duntulm
An archaeological survey was conducted at 7 North Duntulm in July 2011 followed by excavation in November 2011.
The survey identified two probable prehistoric cairns at 7 North Duntulm, likely burial cairns, built to a similar size and shape and situated on opposing sides of the river overlooking Kilmaluag Bay.
7 North Duntulm also contained two Post Medieval farmsteads, which had been re-used and rebuilt over multiple periods of settlement.
Prehistoric cairn at 7 North Duntulm
Prehistoric cairn near 7 North Duntulm (first cairn and Cnoc a’Chlachain in background)
Post Medieval Farmstead, Site A
The western farmstead, Site A, consists of four main upstanding buildings, a row of houses and byre structures linked by drystone walling and revetted into the hillslope. The wellpreserved byre, a typical Scottish stone-built ‘barn’ for housing livestock, was built of bonded beach cobbles with lime mortar and contained two well-preserved drains, or creeps, capped with lintel stones, on the seaward wall.
Byre, building A3, facing SE showing one drain
Building A4, facing NNW, double-faced stone-built byre
During the archaeological excavation, a trench was dug through building A4 to investigate its use. Removal of the bulk of dumped material, manure, bailing twine, empty fertiliser bags and the skeletal remains of at least two dead sheep, revealed the SW revetment wall and an earlier internal division wall. The revetment wall comprised basalt boulders built into the natural slope. The wall had failed at some stage in the past and appeared as a mix of tumbled stone, wall core material and sediment.
The internal wall, double-faced and built of partially dressed stone, had an entrance through it linking two cells of the building. The wall had been built on top of a rough surface of beach cobbles which may have formed part of the original floor of the building. The size of the building and the structural details uncovered during the excavation suggest that this was a byre.
ESE-facing section through building A4, showing the revetment wall and internal division wall
ESE-facing section through building A4, showing the revetmentwall and internal division wall
Archaeologists’ drawing of the upstanding Post Medieval settlement ruins in Site A, 7 North Duntulm
Post Medieval Farmstead, Site C
The eastern farmstead, Site C, also comprises four main upstanding buildings, a row of houses and byre structures revetted into the hillslope. There may have been two phases of construction to the buildings, as there is evidence of rebuilding of the walls and later reuse of the byre for a stock pen. Building C4 would have been a typical Highland ‘blackhouse’. The walls, of double-faced, drystone build, have rounded external corners and a drainage ditch at the base of the sloped ground surface. The building, which originally would not have had windows, would have been roofed with turf / peat penetrated by a single hole to allow smoke from the central fire / hearth to escape.
Site C at 7 North Duntulm, facing ESE
Site C4, facing ENE, a well-built Scottish ‘blackhouse’
The excavations carried out on building C4 were the most extensive, as the new house proposed for this site would be sited directly over the existing stone-built house. Later alterations to the house included the insertion of splayed windows, as well as their subsequent blocking, insertion of an internal fireplace with iron grate and thickening of the NNW wall. One trench was excavated to investigate a section of the front wall, part of the interior space of the building, the entrance and the area immediately outside the entrance leading towards the foreshore.
Excavator removing NNW wall of Structure C4 (left)
Trench 2 looking ENE during initial cleaning (right)
Within the entrance of the building, the archaeologists uncovered coarse slabbing which extended for a short distance inside the structure, while outside the well-laid paving slabs extended towards the foreshore and across the front of the building. The paving outside the building and within the entrance passage displayed some evidence for modification and phasing, with additional layers of paving slabs and small beach cobbles added through time. Artefacts recovered from the area included glass, ceramics and corroded iron objects, all suggested construction and use during the latter half of the 19th century AD and into the early 20th century.
Excavation of the interior of the building, revealed a destruction layer consisting of charcoal, the remains of burnt timbers (possibly from the roof), roofing slate and burnt iron, glass and ceramics. The fragmented and complete remains of three whetstones were also recovered from the surface of this deposit. It is most likely that this was the remains of a catastrophic fire, marking the end of use of the building as a house. A stone-lined ‘sink’ and slab-covered drain formed part of the floor of the building. The drain extended through the entrance of the building and under the paving outside towards the foreshore. The drain had not been cut in a straight line from the interior of the building through the entrance, but meandered in a roughly S-shaped track. Along some of this track, small upright slabs had been set into the natural subsoil to each side of the capping slabs that covered the drain, possibly suggesting that the slabs covering the drain formed the first phase of access to the building before the paving was
added at a later date.
Burnt deposits inside building C4, paving and drain
Archaeologists’ plan of trench dug in building C4, showing house walls and floor surfaces after initial excavation
Archaeologists’ plan of trench dug in building C4, showing drain andpaved floor surfaces upon completion of excavation
Archaeologists’ drawing of the upstanding Post Medieval settlement ruins in Site C
Selection of small finds from Structure C4 including whetstones and iron objects from the burnt destruction layer and a three-pence piece dated1953 from the abandonment phase