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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ16NW0001
NRHE Card No.NJ16NW1
NRHE Numlink 16146
HES SM No. 2205
Site Form Earthwork
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Multi-phased Fort. Once consisted of three ramparts with ditches cutting off headland of Burghead on which lay a bisected, walled enclosure the larger of whose 'courts' on the north-northeast lay at a lower level than the other. All three ramparts are broken by an entrance mid-way. Only mutilated fragments of the fort remain due to general construction of the village. A small stump of the innermost cross rampart survives in the 'Doorie Hill', the upper and lower wards of the fort also survive, the north rampart of the lower being the best preserved. At least 25 to 30 Pictish Class I stones with bulls incised on them were found during the destruction of the fort for the building of the harbour and village. Only six of these stones are known to have survived (see NJ16NW0005). An early to mid 19th century coastguard lookout (NJ16NW0114) stands on the west end of the east-west rampart of the fort. Excavations in 1892 by H. Young cut two sections through the rampart in the upper fort, one at the location of an investigation by the Elgin Literary and Scientific Association some 30 years previously, where Young concluded that the foundation of the rampart had been layers of oak laid on sand. There were some facing stones but the centre was of rolled pebbles. The second trench near the point of the promontory, recorded ruins of freestone and concluded that this section of the rampart had not been robbed for building stone. Young also recorded a paved roadway through the fort. In a small trench in the lower fort Young recorded the foundations stones of buildings. Excavation within the upper fort was carried out by A. Small in 1969, and recorded the inner wall face of the rampart surviving up to 3 m high, of finely dressed and coursed sandstone flags. A watching brief was carried out in 1977 by George Haggarty during digging for a pipeline at the northern extent of the site (NJ 109 692 to NJ 116 690). All the finds from the trench leading to the area suggested late Victorian land reclamation. Archaeological watching briefs carried out in 2000, as part of a research project for The Moray Council and Burghead Headland Trust, during changes to access to houses on the headland and over the emplacement of 6 interpretation boards. These recorded no archaeological features. A single nail, thought to be of recent date, was recovered from the site of Board 2. A programme of archaeological work was undertaken by CFA in 2002 (comprising excavations February and April, and a watching brief on construction works April and July) in advance of proposed construction of an interpretation centre within the coastguard lookout. The work showed that the Lookout had been built on top of extant rampart material with little disturbance of the rampart beneath. The rampart here was stone built of dump construction with no evidence for timber lacing. Sealed below the ramparts were well preserved organic deposits of two old land surfaces separated by windblown sands. A watching brief was carried out by CFA in October 2002 during works to provide an electricity cable trench to the new interpretation centre. It ran on the west side of the garden wall of the coastguard station: no archaeological features or artefacts were uncovered. A project was undertaken in 2003 to identify and date elements of the landward triple rampart system. The total excavation of the garden of 22 Church Street proved negative. In contrast, partial examination of the gardens of The Brae, 35 Grant Street, provided evidence for the cut of one substantial ditch below modern soil build up. Standing walls limited the exposure of the ditch. A narrow trench was also machine cut along the length of the footpath east of the enclosure holding the Burghead Well. Whilst showing undulations in the subsoil, there were no clear surviving signs of a ditch here. However, it was noted that slight traces of two banks and ditches could still be seen on the surface trending obliquely across St Aethan's graveyard. A watching brief in the north part of the village between March and May 2005 during mains renewal, recorded one possible archaeological deposit, a possible extension to the eastern rampart of the fort. A watching brief carried out on works at the visitor centre in 2011 and 2012. No archaeological features or finds were recorded from two structural boreholes adjacent to the Visitor Centre in 2011. The main phase of work in 2012 revealed a small stretch of wall of unknown function, a small section of the rampart wall, and a small amount of animal bone within the collapsed rampart material. The area had been disturbed during construction of the coastguard housing and laying an area previously excavated in 1966. A monitoring of service trenches recorded a deposit of black-grey silt containing some animal and fish bone, and from the same area recovered a possible worked stone, possibly Victorian. The animal bones are most likely post-medieval to modern in date. Geophysical survey was carried out in October 2013 on the upper and lower citadel of the fort, aimed at identifying any features relating to its occupation. The results suggest extensive disturbance of the fort in modern times. A watching brief carried out by S. Farrell in August 2016 on groundworks for creation of three parking bays, recorded no archaeological features or artefacts. Excavations were carried out by Aberdeen University within the upper fort between 2015 and 2017 as part of the Northern Picts project. Eight evaluation trenches in the gardens of the Coastguard Station in 2015 recorded pre 19th century features in only two trenches, comprising a potential floor layer and an animal bone midden. Extension of these trenches in 2016-17 identified almost a metre of deposits in places above the early medieval ground surfaces. These deposits included build up from 19th century landscaping and remnants of post-medieval structures suggesting extensive reworking of the headland in the modern period. Nonetheless a series of buildings and structural evidence were revealed in the sand subsoil below the later soil build-up. Small scale sampling of deposits of the lower and upper citadel ramparts was undertaken by University of Aberdeen in 2018, alongside deposit mapping of the deposits of the lower citadel. Trench 3 identified in situ charred timbers and planks from the upper citadel rampart and trench 1 contained midden deposits abutting the rampart. The excavations also revealed the elaborate nature of the defences with ramparts at least 7-8 m wide m up to 6 m high, and made of quarried sandstone with timber-lacing of plank and beam construction. Further excavation in the upper and lower citadels was carried out by University of Aberdeen in April 2019. This demonstrated that extensive in situ deposits survive. Trench 11 revealed a full section of the seaward rampart, showing the extensive resources required for its construction given the number of horizontal and transverse beams used. Trenches 13, 14 and probably 18 revealed traces of buildings within the ramparts. A watching brief was carried out by S. Farrell in July 2019 during works for extension of existing parking bays on the east side of the coastguard station. No archaeological features or artefacts were identified.
Last Update18/04/2024
Updated Bycsimpson
Date of Compilation25/11/1986

Google Map for NJ16NW0001

National Grid Reference: NJ 1096 6914

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
2000 Watching-Brief
1966 Excavation
2003 Excavation
2005 Watching-Brief
2011 Watching-Brief
2012 Watching-Brief
2002 Evaluation
2002 Watching-Brief
2013 Geophysical Survey
2016 Watching-Brief
1977 Watching-Brief
2018 Evaluation jamesodr1-407740
2019 Excavation jamesodr1-407742
2019 Watching-Brief

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
 1892  HW YOUNG   
 1966 Excavation  A SMALL  0
92003 Excavation  IAN RALSTON   
 2002 Excavation  CFA DEV 
102013 Survey  UOAUOA  
42005 Excavation  S FARELL DEV 
42019 Excavation  UOA   
 2017 Excavation  UOA   

Artefact and Ecofact

Date MDate YArtefact TypeFinderRecovery MethodConditionStorage LocationAccess No.
00 SYMBOL STONES Stray Find National Museum of Scotland IB 95,96
00 SYMBOL STONES Stray Find Elgin Museum  
00 BEAD Stray Find National Museum of Scotland  
00 POTTERY Stray Find  
00 HORN MOUNT Stray Find National Museum of Scotland IL 214


Samples Organic & carbon samples taken by Edwards & Ralston.
Palynology Pollen samples taken by Kevin Edwards.
Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability