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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 NNE 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 N 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. An early to mid 19th century coastguard lookout stands on the W end of the E-W 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. 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 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 E 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 N 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 layin 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 3 parking bays, recorded no archaeological features or artefacts.
Last Update21/12/2017
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation25/11/1986

Easting: 310893.777815131, Northing: 869166.414985855

Google Map for NJ16NW0001

National Grid Reference: NJ 1089 6916

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

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 

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