Fieldwalking in Sutherland Day 1: Introducing the project

This archaeological survey is investigating an unusual concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts that has been found along the shoreline of Loch Fleet, near Golspie in northern Scotland. It develops upon a similar project on the Moray Firth in 2014 which investigated land adjacent to the Culbin Sands, near Findhorn, where tens of thousands of flint artefacts have been found.

Both projects are contributing to a wider consideration of the role of boats in moving people, animals, materials and artefacts around prehistoric Britain and Ireland. Both Loch Fleet and the Culbin Sands, along with similar sites elsewhere around the coast, appear to offer sheltered natural harbours for small boats, along with neutral locations upon islands and sand bars where people from different places could meet.


As with the coastline at Culbin, the sea level at Loch Fleet has gone down since prehistory. What is now an area of drained and low-lying farmland in-between the coastal dunes and the hills was a tidal wetland in the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The process of ploughing brings artefacts to the surface where they can be collected and mapped. We had permission from local farmers to systematically walk across their ploughed fields. This was achieved using a small team walking in straight lines at twenty metre intervals, gradually building up a picture of Neolithic and Bronze Age occupation.

Starting the survey of the first field with Golspie village beyond. Clusters of pebbles showed ground which was likely to have been raised above sea level in prehistory. (Photo: Aaron Watson)
A raised gravel island in what would otherwise have been tidal mudflats or salt marsh in prehistory. We wanted to explore whether any of these drier locations were used by prehistoric people. (Photo: Aaron Watson)

By the end of the first day we were already finding a small number of dispersed stone artefacts, suggesting that people were indeed visiting the marginal inter-tidal zone around the estuary.

Many thanks to Pat Scott and Dorothy Low for help with the project, the local farmers for their support, and to the Coffee Bothy café in Golspie for their hospitality and hot drinks.

Further information:

The fieldwalking project at Loch Fleet is a collaboration between Richard Bradley, Aaron Watson, Ronnie Scott and Annette Jack. It is part of a wider investigation into the role of marine transportation in the Neolithic and Bronze Age of Britain and Ireland. The Sutherland project develops upon a survey focused upon the Culbin Sands, near Findhorn, in 2014. For more details please see:

Maritime Havens in Earlier Prehistoric Britain, by Richard Bradley, Alice Rogers, Fraser Sturt, Aaron Watson, Diana Coles, Julie Gardiner and Ronnie Scott. 2016. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 82, 1-35.
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The Earlier Prehistoric Collections from the Culbin Sands, Northern Scotland: the Construction of a Narrative, by Richard Bradley, Aaron Watson and Ronnie Scott. 2016. In Ancient Lives: Object, people and place in early Scotland. Essays for David V Clarke on his 70th birthday, edited by Fraser Hunter and Alison Sheridan. Leiden: Sidestone Press, 233-43.
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