New Radiocarbon Date from Castle Island, Loch Kinord

The underwater survey carried out at Castle Island in autumn 2015 continues to turn up fascinating new information. During the survey, seven vertical piles were identified, you can read more about the underwater survey HERE. One of these piles has now returned a radiocarbon date of cal AD 585-663. This is the first radiocarbon date from a crannog in eastern Scotland that sits within the middle of the first millennium AD. For Castle Island, this adds to the previously identified phases of use in the Early Iron Age and from the 10th-17th centuries AD.


Calibrated date from the pile.

Of the seven piles, the radiocarbon dated example comes from a group of six that seem to be part of a coherent structure, sitting a consistent distance away from the artificial mound of Castle Island and all sloping in a northerly direction. Precisely what this structure is remains unclear, but some kind of outer palisade is one possibility. It also seems likely that further piles survive under the sediment having been eroded to that level. The sampled pile was oak, and this might explain why it and only a handful of others survived, as other species are not as resistant to decay. However, this does mean that the radiocarbon result should be treated as the earliest possible date for the pile.


The dated pile, looking north.

Excitingly, the radiocarbon date falls around the same period as the ‘Royal Yacht’, one of the four logboats found in Loch Kinord in the 19th century, and may suggest that Castle Island was in use as a crannog at the same time as the Royal Yacht. You can read more about the ‘Royal Yacht’ HERE.

Perhaps more importantly though, the new radiocarbon date from Castle Island sits within the Pictish period. Until as recently as a decade ago, settlement archaeology from the mid- to later 1st millennium AD in north-east Scotland had been rarely identified. However, recent excavations over the past few years at a range of sites across the north-east have identified mid- to late first millennium AD phases, notably at Portmohomack, Rhynie and a number of hill forts in Aberdeenshire and Moray. Castle Island, Loch Kinord now stands among these sites as a settlement that was very likely in use in this period.


Castle Island looking north-west.

The settlement archaeology to date from the Pictish period in north-east Scotland has been dominated by higher status dwellings, but until now, crannogs had not been positively identified among the hill fort and palisaded enclosure sites confirmed as dating from this period. Crannogs display a command and control of resources while also creating physical separation in the landscape – things that Pictish period high-status settlement appear to emphasise. It seems likely therefore that further Pictish phases of crannog use in north-east Scotland will be identified as further work is carried out in this region.

This new radiocarbon date from the pile on the west side of Castle Island represents a new phase of construction. This adds yet another example of a crannog with multiple periods of use separated many centuries. This typically comes from just a few radiocarbon determinations of varying contextual security. With only a handful of crannogs having seen extensive excavation and suites of radiocarbon dates from highly secure contexts, this has meant that the narratives for the use of crannogs often is limited to simply acknowledging likely phases of use. This is the situation as it stands at Castle Island. While not necessarily a problem in it self, the next steps needed to gain a better understanding of how people used Castle Island would be more extensive excavation, ideally underwater to target better preserved contexts.

Sadly, there are currently no plans for further extensive excavations at Castle Island, Loch Kinord. Given the wide range of use at Castle Island, extending from the Early Iron Age to the 17th century, the potential has been established here for important and exciting insights into the island dwelling phenomenon through time in Scotland.