Category Archives: Lochaber

Dun Deardail Vitrified Hillfort Excavations

by Duncan Kennedy (NOSAS)

Dun Deardail (Canmore ID: 23727, HER: MHG4348) is a hillfort located at a height of 1,127 ft (347m) on a prominent knoll on the western flank of Glen Nevis (Figure 1).  It is thought that it was originally occupied in the Iron Age, and saw later periods of reuse by the Picts.  August 2015 saw the first ever archaeological excavation of the site, as the first of three seasons of the Dun Deardail Archaeological Project, which forms part of the ambitious Nevis Landscape Partnership.

2893 Dun Deardail 2011 (copyright FCS by Caledonian Air Surveys) 2

Figure 1: Dun Deardail, centre, sits in a commanding location above Glen Nevis (©2011 FCS by Caledonian Air Surveys)

Although currently known as Dun Deardail, the site has in the past been known by a variety of names – it’s Dundbhairdghall on the 1873 OS map for example, and has also been noted as Deardinl, Dun Dear Duil and Dun Dearg Suil.  The meaning of the name is uncertain, and the site has been tenuously linked with Deirdre, a tragic heroine of Irish legend who fled to Scotland.

Dun Deardail is one of Scotland’s many vitrified forts (see also our blog post on Craig Phadrig), where the walls have been subjected to burning so intense that some of the stones have fused together.  Vitrification has been the subject of much debate, with proferred theories including it being either accidental or the result of attack. However, it requires that very high temperatures are sustained for long periods, so the fires would need to have been carefully managed and maintained – possibly for several days.  This suggests that the process must have been intentional, but questions still remain.  Were these fires built by an enemy after capturing the fort, for example, or was this a ritual act of closure of the site marking the end of its use? One thing for sure is that the fires would have been spectacular, particularly at night, and would probably have been visible for miles.  Part of the project involves the University of Stirling, in partnership with Forestry Commission Scotland, investigating the process, purpose and significance of vitrification in the Scottish Iron Age and Early Historical period.

AOC REPORT TEMPLATE 2008

Figure 2: 2015 Plan © FCS by AOC Archaeology

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A Visit to Kinloch Hourn

by Anne Coombs (NOSAS)

The now the familiar road to Kinloch Hourn was a great introduction to the walk led by John Wombell on the 29th June. Henry Birkbeck has always been very generous to NOSAS and once again he offered us the use of the Lodge for the whole weekend. Please don’t get me wrong: the camp site by the riverside is perfectly acceptable but it was much more comfortable and midge free in the Lodge. What resulted was an extended long weekend which turned into a typical KLH event and my apologies to those who were unable to attend but you missed a very good time.

The Lodge is self-sufficient with its own water supply which also runs the hydro-electric scheme providing all the electricity for the house. The weather was glorious and had been for some time, and the absence of rain meant that the burn was very low. This resulted in much hilarity as we discussed the various water economies we could employ. Bath sharing suggestions of course produced much nonsense but with a great deal of care we avoided that by just staying dirty!

Loch Hourn

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Rhu Arisaig – Neolithic hide and seek

by Ken Bowker (NOSAS)

map

In the autumn of 2012, Jean and I were asked, because of our experience in survey and archaeology, to join Elizabeth and Allan MacDonald and half a dozen others from Arisaig, about twelve miles north of where we live, in order to do a walkover survey of the Rhu Peninsula, a virtually- deserted five by three miles stretch of very rough ground immediately south of Arisaig. Many people will know this area by the winding coastal road that runs along the north side of the peninsula and round the western tip to the old ferry pier at the end of the public road. Beyond this a track continues for a mile or more to the only two permanently-inhabited houses on Rhu. The ferry to the Small Isles berthed here in the days of sail because the way into Arisaig harbour was, and still is, very dangerous, with huge areas of drying reefs.

Cup marked stone

Cup marked stone

The current 1:25000 OS maps mark only a dozen or so features on Rhu Arisaig. In January 2014, as the survey restarted, we had over three hundred on the list, mostly townships, shielings, feannagan, cairns, enclosure walls and the like. But there is relatively little of real note on the peninsula, probably because until very recently it was too inaccessible even for the Antiquarians, with the one exception of the Reverend Jolly, who specialised in looking for cup-marked stones on his days off, and in 1885 very accurately recorded one of the very few west coast examples at Gaodeil, on the eastern border of our survey area.

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