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Mither Tap, fort

A Scheduled Monument in West Garioch, Aberdeenshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.2907 / 57°17'26"N

Longitude: -2.5285 / 2°31'42"W

OS Eastings: 368243

OS Northings: 822353

OS Grid: NJ682223

Mapcode National: GBR X1.99HF

Mapcode Global: WH8NT.406Q

Entry Name: Mither Tap, fort

Scheduled Date: 13 June 1961

Last Amended: 5 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM2114

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: fort (includes hill and promontory fort)

Location: Oyne

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: West Garioch

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises a large hilltop enclosure or fort probably built during the later prehistoric or early historic period. The monument's two stone ramparts enclose a natural granite outcrop marking the summit of Mither Tap and the high point of the hill range, Bennachie. It is partially covered by upland vegetation and its highest point is 535m above sea level. The monument was last scheduled in 1962 but an insufficient area was included to protect the remains described; the present rescheduling rectifies this.

This contour fort occupies the top 60m of the hill. It measures roughly 200m NE-SW by 150m transversely, with a deliberate entrance and outer stone- or hornwork arrangement in the NE corner. There is a second entrance in the SW corner but it is unclear whether this was contemporary with the original function of the monument or a later addition. The rampart was deliberately built to augment the natural outcrops of the NW, W and S sides of the hill and so enclose the summit. These outcrops therefore split the outer rampart into three distinct sections. The most extensive section is on the E side, running S of the NE entrance and in places it is up to 8m thick and 5m high. Wall-faces are well preserved and part of a parapet walk also survives. Within these outer works, the foundations of up to ten circular structures were discovered by 19th-century antiquarians, as was an inner stone enclosure or rampart, to the south of the summit. The relationship of the buildings to the fort's development is unknown. The interior also includes a cistern. The SW corner of the centre of the fort has been built up around bedrock, with loose stonework, and this may indicate an inner rampart or an attempt to level the interior.

Archaeological investigations in 2006 (of a path approaching the fort from the north) obtained two radiocarbon dates of AD 640-780 and AD 340-540 (at 95% certainty). These help to reinforce the current view of some archaeologists that the major use of the fort was during the early historic period.

The area to be scheduled is roughly circular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduling specifically excludes the above-ground remains of existing wooden signposts and a stone pillar bearing visitor signage, and the top 300mm of the paths archaeologically investigated in 2006, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a well-preserved example of its class and it retains a significant proportion of its estimated original shape and structure, notably substantial walls with surviving wall faces and a unique example of parapet walk (the upper levels of forts of any period in Scotland and beyond do not usually survive well enough for such detail to be recovered). The outer works and inner space, which has been partially excavated by 19th-century antiquarians, are likely to contain buried features and deposits relating to its construction and use. The monument has the potential to further our understanding about early historic power centres and the balance between their symbolic and functional use.

Contextual characteristics

This monument belongs to a diverse group of later prehistoric/early-historic enclosures that occupy significant landscape positions such as hilltops, promontories and coastal headlands across Scotland. Estimates of the overall number of these vary, but Mither Tap is an important example of a smaller group of hilltop or contour enclosures ranging from 250sq m to over 5ha in size. Their distribution generally runs northwards in a line from Dumfries and Galloway to the Lothians (where the majority of these monuments survive) to further north on the east side of the country, including Perthshire and Angus, the Great Glen, Deeside and Strathdon. Small concentrations can be found on the north coast and in the west. It is an important example of a regional cluster of similar sites that dominate the hilltop landscapes of the NE of Scotland.

The form of this monument has long suggested that it could be a rare example of an early-historic (Pictish) fort of the first millennium AD, and radiocarbon dates of 2006 show that there was certainly activity here at this time, although they do not prove when the fort was built. Together with smaller, contemporary forts that survive in Strathdon and further south in Perthshire and Fife, these large monuments can help us understand the development of early-historic communities across NE Scotland.

At Mither Tap much use is made of the natural topography and the impressive scale of stone work undertaken here suggests that defence and/or status was probably a significant function. Equally significant is the symbolic nature of the site as a major landmark, dominating many of the medium- and long-distance vistas of the area. An iconic function for this site appears likely and may be reflected in, among other things, the cluster of Pictish ogham inscriptions around its lower slopes. Mither Tap can therefore help us understand the relationship between people and landscape.

Associative characteristics

The northern side of Bennachie, below the fort, has long been associated with the Roman conquest of Scotland. It is believed to be one of the most likely sites of a battle known as Mons Graupius, recorded as taking place in AD 84 between the advancing Roman army and the regional tribes-people of NE Scotland, the Caledonii. The proximity of a Roman marching camp at Durno may support the theory, although no field evidence for the battle has ever been found. The fort and hill range of Bennachie is very popular with visitors and hillwalkers and is well-known by local communities including the Bailies of Bennachie, a long-established group who look after the stewardship of the hill range.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular the construction, function and symbolism of later prehistoric/early-historic hilltop enclosures, and the values that later communities placed on them. The quality of the surviving ramparts is very high and includes unique evidence for a parapet walk. Mither Tap is likely to have played a central role as a Pictish regional centre and in the development of communities that occupied Strathdon, where it is one of the largest and most imposing landmarks. Its loss would impede our ability to understand the wider settlement, economic and social patterns of NE Scotland throughout later prehistory and early history

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as NJ62SE 1; Aberdeenshire Council SMR record this site as NJ62SRE0001.

References:

Atkinson D 2006, MITHER TAP FORT, BENNACHIE, ABERDEENSHIRE: RESULTS OF AN ARCHAEOLOGICAL WATCHING BRIEF, [= circulated typescript report], Edinburgh: Headland Archaeology.

Chapman J C and Mytum H C (eds.) 1983, 'SETTLEMENT IN NORTH BRITAIN 1000BC ' AD1000', Papers presented to George Jobey Newcastle upon Tyne, December 1982, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 118, Oxford, BAR.

McConnochie A I 1985, BENNACHIE, ABERDEEN, James G Bissett.

Ralston I, Sabine K and Watt W 1983, 'Later prehistoric settlements in North-East Scotland: a preliminary assessment'. In Chapman J C and Mytum H C (eds.) 1983, 'SETTLEMENT IN NORTH BRITAIN 1000BC ' AD1000', Papers presented to George Jobey Newcastle upon Tyne, December 1982, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 118, Oxford, BAR, 149-73.

RCAHMS 2007, IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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