Dig at ruins of stronghold uncovers unknown tower
HISTORY is again being re-written by archaeologists who have made another discovery about a landmark stronghold that was once the seat of the earls of Caithness.
It had already been discovered that the site in Caithness was built a century earlier than was previously thought, and that two ruins - Castle Sinclair and Girnigoe Castle - are part of the same structure.
Now archaeologists have unearthed a previously unrecorded feature of the medieval castle near Wick.
This week they have started to expose an eight-metre long section of a stone tower - or barbican - on ground directly opposite the west gatehouse of the structure now known as Sinclair Girnigoe Castle.
The find was made while the specialist three-strong team from York University were preparing the site for the start of work to conserve the former clifftop stronghold at Noss Head.
Team leader Justin Garner-Lahire said the discovery of the barbican was not entirely by chance. "We suspected the presence of a western barbican but were not sure if we would find anything."
He and colleagues Lisa Smith and Toby Simpson came upon the structure immediately after digging up the top layer of turf. Made of the same stone as the late 14th century castle, it faces the west gatehouse on the other side of a steep gulley, which would have served as the moat.
Mr Garner-Lahire said the enclosure would have been built to help protect the drawbridge in the event of a raid, and it is probable there is another barbican to the east of the site.
The discovery further enhances the international importance of the castle. He said: "The site was originally thought to contain two castles and date from the post-medieval Scottish Renaissance period. Our work has pushed it back 100 years to medieval times, and shown that it was a single castle."
As well as excavating the barbican, work will be done to preserve the feature chimney stack and entrance archway in the outer bailey.
The 400,000 scheme marks the first building work for 300 years on the castle which was named on a World Monuments Fund (WMF) list of the world's most endangered heritage sites - along with the Great Wall of China and the Valley of the Kings in Egypt.
Malcolm Sinclair, the 20th Earl of Caithness, who put the building in the care of a trust, has been promoting an international appeal to raise more than 1 million to preserve the site.
The earl said the discovery of the barbican is an exciting development.
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