Ancient Monuments

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Hirsel Law, fort

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Berwickshire, Scottish Borders

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Latitude: 55.6677 / 55°40'3"N

Longitude: -2.2794 / 2°16'45"W

OS Eastings: 382525

OS Northings: 641607

OS Grid: NT825416

Mapcode National: GBR D2JX.B4

Mapcode Global: WH8XN.YSRZ

Entry Name: Hirsel Law, fort

Scheduled Date: 5 January 2009

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12349

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Coldstream

County: Scottish Borders

Electoral Ward: Mid Berwickshire

Traditional County: Berwickshire


The monument comprises the remains of a hillfort, visible as the cropmarks of a pair of ditches. The fort occupies the broad-backed summit of Hirsel Law at a height of around 95m above sea level. It is likely to be of late first millennium BC/early first millennium AD (Iron Age/early historic period) and forms part of a wider pattern of Iron-Age or early-historic period settlement.

Preserved as a buried feature and visible on aerial photographs, the roughly oval fort measures approximately 350m NE-SW by 200m transversely within up to two well-defined ditches creating an internal area of around 3.7 ha. The outer ditch measures up to 7m in breadth while the inner ditch, whose line is incomplete but closely follows that of the outer ditch, measures up to 4.5m in width. The ditches are spaced between 3m and 5m apart, and the medial and outer ditch approximately 5m apart. Each ditch is likely to have been associated with a rampart, although no trace is visible on aerial photographs. Possible entrances are visible on the NW, NE and SE. The monument lies in an extensive field of rough grazing that is bordered by forestry plantation. Part of the summit of Hirsel Law is enclosed to provide a game trap for pheasant.

The area to be scheduled is roughly oval on plan, to include the fort, its ditches and ploughed-out ramparts, and an area around within which evidence relating to its construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The above-ground elements of the post-and-wire fences of the enclosures and the OS triangulation point on the summit of Hirsel Law are specifically excluded from the scheduling 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

Preserved as a negative or buried feature that is now only visible as a cropmark, this site is an excellent example of a multi-vallate hillfort that is likely to date to the late 1st millennium BC or early 1st millennium AD. The hillfort lies in a field that has not been cultivated since the 1940s and is currently in use as sheep grazing and the potential for the survival of buried deposits inside the fort is excellent. Such deposits include round timber houses, other domestic buildings and artefacts that could enhance our understanding of the social structures and domestic architecture of the Iron-Age people who built and used this monument. Ancient ground surfaces sealed by remains of the ramparts and also within the ditches have excellent potential to provide us with evidence of the environment within which the occupants of the fort people lived. The ditches and ploughed-out ramparts may also contain deposits and archaeological features relating to the construction and occupation of the site, and its association with possible surrounding field systems. The twin ditches and the arrangement of possible entrances may represent several phases of construction.

Contextual characteristics

The fort occupies a commanding and prominent position within the landscape, possibly an indicator of its significance within Iron-Age or early-historic society. The summit of Hirsel Law has excellent views, with East Lothian visible to the north and Carter Bar in Northumbria to the south. Hirsel Law overlooks the course of the Leet Water, known in the later medieval period to possess beds of freshwater mussels that were exploited by local communities, and would have overlooked the confluence of the Leet and the Tweed, likely an important economic and communication route in the late prehistoric/early historic period.

Hirsel Law offers the capacity to contribute towards a better understanding of forts and defended settlements, particularly those in the Tweed valley. The substantial scale of the fort invites comparisons with similarly-sized hillforts in Northumbria, the Scottish Borders and the Lothians. It is thought that forts such as Hirsel Law and others such as The Dunion (4.9 ha), Yeavering Bell (5.2 ha) and Rubers Law (3.6) represented political, social and economic centres as well as being places of high status and a focus for the local community. Forts are often located nearby to smaller sites such as scooped or enclosed settlements, suggesting either a potential hierarchy if the sites are contemporary, or reflecting a change in social structure and economy and thus preferred settlement location if the sites are sequential. Comparing and contrasting the monument to other nearby forts (as Iron-age forts and defended settlements tend to be constructed in close proximity to each other) can enable an understanding of how such sites are positioned within the landscape, as well as provide enhanced contexts for the understanding of Iron-age economy and structure of society. We can use information gained from the preservation and study of this site to gain an insight into the wider knowledge of Iron-Age forts across Scotland.

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 to Iron-Age or early- historic forts. It forms an intrinsic element of the later prehistoric settlement pattern along the Leet Water and the River Tweed. Domestic remains and artefacts from forts have the potential to tell us about wider prehistoric society, its architecture, how people lived, where they came from, who they had contacts with, provide us with evidence of native-Roman interaction, and may offer an insight into the function of forts. Archaeological deposits preserved beneath the ploughed-out ramparts and within the ditches and interior of the monument may provide information about the nature of the contemporary environment and the use prehistoric farmers made of it. Spatial analysis of similar sites may inform our understanding of patterns of landholding and the expansion of settlement. Its loss would impede our ability to understand the placing of such monuments within the landscape both in the Scottish Borders and across Scotland, as well as our knowledge of the social structure, economy, and building practices of late-prehistoric/early-historic communities.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS record the site as NT84SW 7 and the Scottish Borders SMR designate the site as 1070008.


RCAHMS 1980, THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES AND MONUMENTS OF BERWICKSHIRE DISTRICT, BORDERS REGION, The Archaeological Sites and Monuments of Scotland Series, No. 10, 25, No. 196, Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Welfare H 1980, 'Jigsaw puzzle and dustbin: air photography and the Iron Age in Southern Scotland', SCOT ARCHAEOL FORUM 10, 1978, 3.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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