Bouilag Four Poster

by Leslie Myatt

As a result of work carried out by the Archaeology Branch of the Ordnance Survey during the period 1982-83 a number of previously unrecorded antiquities were identified in the parish of Latheron to the south of Dunbeath Water between Achnaclyth and Bouilag Hill (Proudfoot, 1983,54). This is an area of abandoned crofting communities and well known are the remains of wags, or galleried dwellings, nearby.

During the course of the survey a number of hut circles and burnt mounds were identified together with the possible remains of a stone setting known as a four-poster.

Four-posters are not commonly known to exist in the north of Scotland but there is a concentration of them in Perthshire and a scattering of them elsewhere throughout Britain and Ireland. They consist of four standing stones at the corners of a rough rectangle and lie usually on the circumference of a circle. There is considerable variation in both the size of stones and the area of ground enclosed by them. Generally they are smaller than stone circles and in some cases burials have been found within them.

The only other possible, but uncertain, examples of four-posters in the north of Scotland are in Sutherland at Balnakeil (NC 392673) and at Aberscross (NH 770991) near the Mound.

The Caithness four-poster is situated at ND 091330 and is on rough ground 400m west of the deserted croft and enclosure of Bouilag. It was visited by the author and 2 other members of the Field Club during the summer of 1988 when the site was planned. There are only 3 small upright stones of local sandstone with no evidence of a fourth stone. A plan of the setting is shown in Fig. 1 and the heights of the individual stones are:

North 0.40m

South East 0.45m

South West 0.52m

The absence of a fourth stone is not unusual and has been noted at other sites. Evidence at some of these sites indicates the previous existence of a fourth stone which has been removed. It has been suggested (Burl 1988, 39) that settings of standing stones may have been seen as places of pagan worship and that the removal of one stone may have been carried out to Christianise the setting by representing the Trinity. Damage to, and destruction of stone settings has not been uncommon in the past because of their assumed pagan symbolism. In some cases crosses have been carved on the face of standing stones in an attempt to christianise them. There are examples of this in the north on one of the stones at the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney and on a single standing stone on Learable Hill in Sutherland.

The identification of this site as a four-poster adds one more to the types of stone setting to be found in Caithness.



BURL, A. (1988) :: Four-posters, Bronze Age Stone Circles of Western Europe, BAR.

PROUDFOOT, E. (1983) :: Discovery and Excavation in Scotland. CBA Scotland.


First Published in Caithness Field Club Bulletin April 1989



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