Mesolithic Discovery 
At Thrumster Estate

Archaeology Thrumster House

Mesolithic Period Discovery In Caithness

Some Of the Flints

Flints From The Site

Over 50 people gathered to hear of the very significant discoveries being made on the Thrumster Estate.  Isla McLeod has been instrumental in not only finding first flints whilst planting trees on the estate but in bringing together the necessary expertise to examine the site.  With the help of Nan Bethune of Dunbeath Preservation society they have set one of the most significant pieces of archaeological research going for many years in Caithness

The first Mesolithic site in Caithness has been discovered on the Thrumster Estate by Isla MacLeod and confirmed by a team working at the site over the last couple of weeks. Isla made the first discovery of flints when planting trees on a small part of the estate. The furrows turned over to allow the trees to be planted had uncovered the flints that Isla first spotted. Amelia Pannet has been leading a small team of students in order to complete Phd on archaeology in Caithness. She has visited Caithness several times in the last couple of years and been the guest of the Dunbeath Preservation Trust whose Chairwoman Nan Bethune stressed the importance of having young archaeologist involved in the area. This could bring long term benefits as over the years they return to further their studies and add to the knowledge base of archaeology in Caithness.

Team Near The Site

Nan said that the Yarrows area on the Thrumster estate is one of the most important landscapes in the north. Caithness is remarkable with Yarrows being the jewel in the crown with examples of building and human habitation from many periods of mans settlement of this unique landscape.

Niall Sharples an archaeologist and senior lecturer from Cardiff University supervising Amelia’s work on the site stressed the importance of the sites great importance. The possible effects on tourism and the local economy as well as the value as a site of great interest. He said that where Orkney is being considered as a site of world heritage importance the Caithness landscape and is equally important as that of Orkney. The Yarrows monuments with Camster are very spectacular and important in both public terms of curiosity but also in academic terms.

Moving Material For Sifting

It was very important to look at many of the monuments. Where as Orkney monuments are well known there are many sites in Caithness that have not been examined. Caithness is and was a rich environment agriculturally. Commonly archaeologists walk the fields and find flints and other items that help to tell us where they lived.


The team have been carried out work in the area of Isla McLeod’s first discovery and have found several hundred pieces of flint and arrowheads. The quantities being found in a very short space of time has proved very exciting. Mesolithic sites are places where people came on to the landscape after the glaciers disappeared.
There is no site like this one in Orkney. The flints are very old on this site. It was a miracle that Isla found the site in the middle of a peat bog. A series of fortuitous accidents has brought this site to notice. But it is one of the most important sites found for many years.

A Mesolithic site and inland away from the sea makes it very significant. The objective is limited at present to find out how people lived here and more work is needed to develop the knowledge. The flints are being discovered on small knolls of ground and they may have come back to the same spots over many years. The site had a good view of the land around about.

Down To Clay

Some of the places have revealed different types of flints indicating possibly a very long period of use indeed. The task is to try to obtain sample possibly from the peat to test for dating purposes. A question for the team long term is to find out if it extends into the Neolithic period and on into the period of the monuments that litter the Yarrows landscape.

A selection of flints was made available for people at Thrumster house on Tuesday to see. Nan Bethune said that what was required was the formation of a Trust to take forward the ideas and to that end a committee might be required to look at the possible benefits to Caithness of the current discoveries.

Richard Tipping from Stirling University a paleo-ecologist had been brought in to carry out an environmental survey. He looks at how landscapes were utilised by people in the past. He had seen Yarrows for the first time in July this year following an email from Amelia Pannet.

He said that a lot was known about the effect of glaciers on the Caithness landscape. The current landscape is the result of natural and human impact over perhaps 10,000 years. Peat bogs in Yarrows potentially go back 10,000 years. In north West European terms the Yarrows landscape is unique. There is a relationship between human beings and the peat. There is a band of charcoal on the site from early fires. They may be natural of they may be manmade. The inland pattern of the site makes it a very important site. The links to the coast have often been made in the past. But this site inland makes it very special not just in Scotland but northern Europe. His team from Stirling are spending a week this visit to get data and measurements and investigate the landscape around where the finds have been made.

This discovery perhaps amongst the oldest evidence of mans first appearance in the north of Scotland has to be one of the most important discoveries in living memory. It will have many more people wishing to visit it. The material is being found every few minutes as the group work on the site. The full extent of the site has not been determined and measurements are being taken to build computer models that might assist in this process. Much further work will be required in coming years to try to obtain the full evidence that lies all around in the area of this new discovery.

The area already has a huge range of examples of historical value and unique to the area in many cases. The list is already staggering and to name just a few - Starting in more modern times - Railway remains, Dam and waterways to a mill, Lime kilns, Water culverts, burial cairns, Cairn of Get, Chambered cairns -mostly unexcavated, Bronze Age cists, Garrywhin Hill Fort, Bronze Age Cairn, Standing Stones. Cairn with standing stones, Cists in a cairn, Fan shaped stone rows, Hut circles from the Iron Age, A dun from the Bronze Age, a superb example of a Broch, Several other brochs, A Pictish cist, Pre -clearance settlement, a quarry a clearance settlement. This list is just a small part of what lies around the Yarrows area over to Warehouse hill. Then comes this latest discovery to make it one of the most incredible areas in the whole of Scotland for weight of sites and pointing to the fact that over long periods of time from man’s first coming to the lands of the north that they lived and visited Caithness for extremely long periods. This latest the oldest yet found of possibly international significance could add much to the archaeological record of Caithness. But much more than that it could be the catalyst bringing in the expertise on a scale quite unprecedented in modern times. Not only has it the potential to add hugely to the knowledge base as academics like Amelia Pannett complete her work but longer term the study and research could be of great value to the local economy, to tourism and more as the interest that might be generated by the finds now being brought from beneath the peat.

The next steps might be taken by the Dunbeath Heritage Preservation Society to help get the committee started to form a trust to carry forward coordination of obtaining funding to ensure that this work is carried forward on the site and that the local community can be involved and that there is a benefit to the local economy by maximising its potential.

Everyone at the meeting at Thrumster house agreed this discovery was one of the most exciting archaeological discoveries for many years and was likely to prove to be of incredible value in terms of public interest both locally and internationally.

The current dig has been funded and assisted by Cardiff University, historic Scotland, CASE and Isla McLeod who made the original discovery.