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Highland Hillforts

by Meryl Marshall (NOSAS)

The Atlas of Hillforts in Britain and Ireland project

Hillforts are one of the most prominent types of prehistoric monument seen across many parts of Britain and Ireland, and this hillfort project has recently been set up with the aim of producing a paper atlas and an online searchable atlas linked to Google Earth. It is a collaborative four year project between the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh, and contributions from members of the public, either as individuals or as part of local field groups, are welcome.

Several members of NOSAS were interested in this project and a field day took place in May which nine attended. We visited three forts in the Drumnadrochit area which James McComas had suggested. The day was a great success even though the weather didn’t exactly co-operate and the overall impression was “damp” to say the least! The three forts of Dun Scriben, Craig Mony (Craigmonie) and An Torr were very different from each other – we took photos, made rough sketches and filled in the (reputedly) tortuous form provided on the website. The form proved to be not as formidable as we had anticipated and has been submitted to Strat Halliday who is the Scottish and Irish end of the project. If any members are interested in participating in the project or in joining the next NOSAS field day please contact Meryl Marshall.

More information about the project is available on the website

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/hillforts-atlas.html

The form to fill in is available at

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/files/hillforts/survey%20pro-forma%20web%20final%20v2.pdf

and notes and guidelines are at

http://www.arch.ox.ac.uk/files/hillforts/survey%20notes%20for%20guidance%20web%20final%20v2.pdf

Producing drawings of hillforts

A drawing or sketch of a site, even if it is not precisely to scale, gives so much more information than a written description. Ideally it would be good to produce a plane-table drawing but this is not always a convenient method as it is time consuming and involves carrying heavy equipment to remote and inaccessible places. So when doing the recent surveys at Drumnadrochit we experimented with several methods of survey: using tape and offset, pacing and GPS waymarks. A draft sketch on permatrace was produced but, as usual, it was a bit messy – the words “dog’s breakfast” came to mind! A tidy final drawing was needed, so using a further piece of permatrace and a 4H pencil, I traced the site using hachuring as per RCAHMS guidelines, with annotations to clarify some of the features; I then scanned the result, see sketch of Craig Mony Fort. For me this method of drawing up is new and I have not perfected the technique yet, but Ian Parker of RCAHMS was helpful in giving advice and suggestions, and also his own drawing below.

Craig Mony Fort Meryl Marshall

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Meryl Marshall

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Ian Parker

Craig Mony, Drumnadrochit, by Ian Parker

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Cnoc Tigh and Tarlogie Dun Excavations (Iron Age Round Houses)

by David Findlay (NOSAS)

These excavations, in April and July 2014, were led by Candy Hatherley and form part of the University of Aberdeen Northern Picts Project. Cnoc Tigh (see also our earlier blog entry) and Tarlogie Dun are Iron Age round houses situated on the north coast of the Tarbat Peninsula in Easter Ross. They are both on the high ground about 200m back from the coast giving them spectacular views across the Dornoch Firth to Sutherland and up the Sutherland coast. Neither site is naturally defensive and, though both have watercourses to one side creating a gorge and a steep bank to the sea on another side, that still leaves two sides open to the surrounding countryside.

The NOSAS Team Tarlogie Looking N April 2014 P1030613

The NOSAS team at Tarlogie, looking N (David Findlay)

They differ from the three duns excavated by the Aberdeen University Team in 2013 in that these were all on the south side of the Tarbat Peninsular and were relatively defensible due to the natural features, although Tarrel is overlooked by the cliff on the landward side.

Both Cnoc Tigh and Tarlogie appear to date from about 400 BC with occupation at Tarlogie lasting for 800 years to about 400AD. I do not know of any dates yet for the latest occupancy at Cnoc Tigh although I understand that suitable charcoal samples have been taken for dating.

The 2014 excavations at both sites reveal severely robbed and damaged stone walls; there are discernible facing walls in a few locations but largely only the fill remains. Both sites show a lot of evidence of the structures changing with time.

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