Ancient Monuments

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Little Hill, fort

A Scheduled Monument in Annandale East and Eskdale, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.1832 / 55°10'59"N

Longitude: -3.0407 / 3°2'26"W

OS Eastings: 333825

OS Northings: 588154

OS Grid: NY338881

Mapcode National: GBR 786H.HR

Mapcode Global: WH7YH.8Z8B

Entry Name: Little Hill, fort

Scheduled Date: 16 March 2010

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12745

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Westerkirk

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Annandale East and Eskdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the upstanding remains of a prehistoric fort visible as a semi-circular, artificially enhanced slope surrounding at least 16 footings of roundhouses and a small section of earthen bank with two outer banks and central ditch. It lies on the summit of Little Hill in a low valley, around 180m above sea level and overlooking the River Esk to the north, west and east. The monument was last scheduled in 1986, but an inadequate area was included to protect all of the archaeological remains; the present rescheduling rectifies this and improves the associated documentation.

The interior of the enclosure is pear-shaped on plan and covers at least 0.55ha. It measures around 121m NE-SW by 60m transversely and is enclosed on the north-western half by an artificially enhanced slope. To the north-west the slope includes facing stones and evidence of vitrification. To the south lies a well-preserved section of bank on the top of the slope, which measures up to 5m thick and 0.7m high. This is accompanied by two outer banks and a medial ditch. There are two entrances, one to the west and one to the north-east. Each has an external trackway but it is unclear if these are contemporary with the entrances. Within the interior of the enclosure are at least 16 footings of roundhouses measuring up to 7m in diameter. The eastern end of the slope has been disturbed by two later quarry scoops.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive and for its support and preservation, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is visible as a series of earthworks surviving in an area of grazing. It is a good example of a large, late prehistoric fort because of the preservation of structural remains within its interior and the possible evidence of different phases of construction indicated by overlapping roundhouse footings.

Preservation on such sites can often be high, due to their location being unsuitable for more recent agriculture. The monument therefore has the potential to reveal valuable information about the character of late prehistoric fortifications. The upstanding banks may contain evidence of timber lacing or a palisade, which would help inform our understanding of how the defences were built. The rare evidence for vitrification tells us that the stone defences were originally timber-laced and that they were deliberately burnt, perhaps as part of an attack on the site or part of a more peaceful but spectacular event. Potential also exists for preservation of a buried soil beneath the section of bank and for environmental remains to survive within the fills of the ditch. This evidence could provide information about the environment within which Iron-Age people built the settlement. Inside the enclosure roundhouses and domestic remains will provide archaeological evidence relating to the construction and occupation of the site and the daily lives of the people who occupied them. In particular, buried deposits also have the potential to add to our understanding of the economy of the prehistoric period.

Contextual characteristics

Forts were built at various times from at least the end of the late Bronze Age (around 800 BC) until probably the end of the early medieval period (around 1000 AD). Previous excavation and research has indicated that the majority of forts date to the Iron Age, ranging from the mid- to late 1st millennium BC, although evidence at a number of sites does indicate the first defensive systems begin to appear in the Bronze Age. The evidence of multiple roundhouses and vitrification at this fort, and its large size, make it relatively rare for eastern Dumfries and Galloway.

The monument is situated on the summit of Little Hill, which is set within the Esk valley and lies around 750m south-west of a bend in the River Esk. It is around 300m to the north of Craig Hill fort, one of the smallest forts in Eskdale. Both entrances faces toward the River Esk. Comparing and contrasting the settlement to other nearby examples (as Iron-Age 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, structure of society and expansion of prehistoric settlement in the area. It may also allow us to begin to learn more about population size, expansion and movement within this period (for example, through comparison with the smaller fort on Craig Hill to the south).

The construction of forts, including size, form, features and placement in the landscape are all important in understanding this type of monument. This monument is one of the largest in Eskdale, which may indicate a larger type of settlement with a different function. By comparing this monument to others of its type we can learn more about prehistoric forts in eastern Dumfries and Galloway and more widely throughout Scotland. The monument also complements the other types of prehistoric settlement sites identified close by in Eskdale, to provide a fuller picture of prehistoric landscape and society in the region over time.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular later prehistoric settlement along the river Esk. It is well preserved with good evidence of multiple roundhouses and vitrification, which demonstrates that it is a relatively rare site in eastern Dumfries and Galloway. It has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of fortifications, contemporary architecture, landuse and society in this locality and by association the rest of Scotland in the later prehistoric period. Domestic remains and artefacts from settlements have the potential to tell us about wider prehistoric society, its architecture, how people lived, where they came from, who they had contacts with and also to provide us with evidence of native-Roman interaction. Archaeological deposits preserved beneath the bank and in the 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 sites may inform our understanding of patterns of landholding and the expansion of settlement. The loss of this site would affect our future ability to appreciate and understand the prehistoric landscape and its inhabitants.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



This site was first scheduled as SM Index No 4366.

RCAHMS record the site as NY38NW 9; the Dumfries and Galloway SMR as MDG7953.


Feachem, R 1956 'Iron Age and Early Medieval Monuments in Galloway and Dumfriesshire', Trans Dumfriesshire Galloway Natur Hist Antiq Soc, 33 (1954-5), 65.

Jobey, G 1971 'Early settlements in eastern Dumfriesshire', Trans Dumfriesshire Galloway Natur Hist Antiq Soc, 48, 84-5.

Kokeza, Nives 2008 Later Prehistoric Enclosed Site Evidence of Southern Scotland, Brit Archaeol Rep Brit Ser 469.

RCAHMS, 1997 Eastern Dumfriesshire: An Archaeological Landscape, RCAHMS, Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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