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Thurster Community Excavation

Community archaeology

Community Excavation at Thurster, near Thrumster


Would you like to join a community excavation organised by Yarrows Heritage, 15th – 23rd April, led by Andy Heald of AOC Archaeology?


What are we digging?


We’re digging the remains of a probable late 18th century building that sits on a platform that could previously have housed Thurster Tower. The site is located in the area of Thrumster, c.1.2 km to the south-east of Thrumster House, in an area known as Long Greens. The field is currently pasture-land, although it would have been cultivated in the past. We are very grateful to the landowner, Peter Stewart, for permission to dig on his land.


Why are we digging?

It would be good to find the site of the old Thurster Tower! However, the primary purpose of the excavation is to offer the local community an opportunity to search for and research their own history. The excavation will teach the archaeological skills needed to understand and investigate an archaeological site. No previous experience is necessary. We can teach you all that you need to know. And provide the equipment you will need.


What is Thurster Tower?

Based on historical evidence and cartographic sources, Thurster Tower may have been located in this area.

From the 9th century AD, Caithness was under Norse rule but towards the end of the 11th century, Caithness was viewed as subject to the Scottish kings, although it is likely to have retained some considerable influence with, and connection to, Orkney. In 1456, the Earl of Caithness and Orkney, William Sinclair was bequeathed all rights of the lands of Noss and Turbuster by Sir Alexander Sutherland, through his marriage to Marjory Sutherland of Dunbeath.


By 1541, we know that Thurster Tower was held by Elizabeth Innes. We have no picture or description of it, but it is likely to have been a tower-house, similar to Ackergill. In January 1552-3, the Tower became contended as Queen Mary made a grant of this and further lands to Laurence, Master of Oliphant. The Earls of Sinclair challenged this bequest and in 1583 attempted to evict William Oliphant from Thrumbuster/Thrumster wherein they may have sought refuge at the nearby stronghold of Thurster/Tubister. In the next fifty years there were many battles and skirmishes around, and for the possession of, the Tower. There is no mention of it in historical sources after 1604. It was probably pulled down soon afterwards, with its stones going to make nearby buildings and dykes.


So, what’s the building we’ll be excavating?

In many ways it is a building like many others in Caitness – a long rectangular building with, probably, dwelling space at one end and space for animals at the other. But until we excavate it, we won’t know. And who knows what left-behind objects we might find as we dig down to the “habitation level”. And below that, will there be the foundations of the old Tower, constituting the platform on which the building sits? We will find out as the week’s excavation goes on.


If I can’t excavate, can I come to see it?

Of course, we welcome visitors. However as there will also be school groups visiting, we’ll need to manage visitor numbers. However, there will be Open Days on the last two days of the dig:

  • Friday 21st April, 2-4pm

  • Saturday 22nd April, 10am-1pm.


Who’s leading the Excavation?

Andy Heald is a lead archaeologist with AOC Archaeology, based in Edinburgh. He’s also their Managing Director. Andy is well known to many in Caithness as he was the first Development Officer for Caithness Archaeology Trust. He has a passion for passing on archaeological skills and for involving communities in their archaeology.


How do I take part?

Please contact us at Yarrows Heritage:

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