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Barr a' Chaistealain, dun and township 180m SSE of Oak Bank

A Scheduled Monument in Oban North and Lorn, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.3996 / 56°23'58"N

Longitude: -4.9795 / 4°58'46"W

OS Eastings: 216223

OS Northings: 727021

OS Grid: NN162270

Mapcode National: GBR 03.0PBX

Mapcode Global: WH2K2.HD1V

Entry Name: Barr a' Chaistealain, dun and township 180m SSE of Oak Bank

Scheduled Date: 23 July 1976

Last Amended: 19 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM3858

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: dun; Secular: settlement, including deserted, depopulated and to

Location: Glenorchy and Inishail

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Oban North and Lorn

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a dun, a defended settlement likely to date to the Iron Age (between 500 BC and AD 500) or earlier, and a post-medieval deserted rural settlement. These features survive as earthworks and ruined, stone-walled structures in a clearing of rough grazing, surrounded by a conifer plantation. The site is located on a flat-topped ridge S of the Strath of Orchy, at around 95m above sea level.

The dun is roughly circular and encloses a space almost 20m in diameter. Its eastern half has been re-formed and the walls reshaped and extended to enclose a tapering rectilinear space, which is thought to relate to the post-medieval reuse and occupation of the site. The post-medieval settlement comprises seven ruined rectangular buildings and at least four enclosures, which (except in the case of the largest enclosure) are all located down slope and E of the fort. The buildings vary in length between approximately 7m and 22m and all are approximately 6m wide. A track of unknown date leads to the settlement from the W and a length of dyke has been recorded to its S. A series of grass-covered mounds has also been recorded to the S of the complex, but their date and function remains unknown.

The monument was first scheduled in 1976, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this. The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan and includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded from the scheduling are the above-ground remains of all interpretation boards.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument survives in a stable and relatively good condition. It reflects at least two episodes of occupation, firstly during later prehistory, and subsequently during the post-medieval and early modern period. It was finally abandoned in the 1950s.

Although extensively damaged by later reuse of the site, the overall footprint of the dun is intact, with three-quarters of the circular enclosing wall visible as an earthwork. The wall-facing is best preserved in the southern half, where a 20m stretch of outer facing has been observed. A further arc of outer wall-facing was recorded in the northern half, and some inner wall-facing was revealed in the SW arc. The wall survives to over 1m high and is up to 2m thick, and includes some very large blocks, the largest measuring 1.3m by 0.8m by 0.75m. In its N half, the wall takes advantage of a rock outcrop for part of its circuit, which must have been incorporated into the structure of the wall. There is no trace of an entrance, which suggests it was probably located in the (now missing) NE arc of the dun wall. The interior is obscured by vegetation, but a scooped lower area has been recorded towards the W side. The post-medieval reshaping of the dun included extending its walls to the E, which probably disturbed prehistoric archaeological remains below the ground in this area. Elsewhere, however, there is high potential for the survival of evidence for the later prehistoric structure and occupation debris in the buried layers beneath and within the dun wall.

Documentary evidence suggests the site was re-used and re-occupied from the mid 15th century onwards, with the establishment of a rural settlement. It almost certainly had an agricultural basis, but documentary evidence suggests that it may also have been the site of an historic smithy. The surviving building forms appear to reflect at least two phases of post-medieval occupation. The longer rectangular buildings are older than those with a length of around 8m and are reminiscent of the Highland longhouse form. The shorter types retain evidence for windows, doors, fireplaces and lime mortar pointing. The stone used in the post-medieval buildings was almost certainly quarried from the dun.

Future investigation of the surviving structure of the dun and its buried deposits could help us understand much about daily life during the later prehistoric period. Study of the development of the post-medieval rural settlement in the dun's immediate vicinity could enhance our understanding of rural domestic architecture and the changes in agricultural and metalworking processes over time. Overall the site has high potential for the survival of structural, artefactual and palaeoenvironmental evidence in the form of domestic, agricultural and industrial buildings, middens, drains, yards, field banks and, possibly, earlier building foundations. This evidence can provide much information about the date and duration of use of the site's various components, its development sequence and the functions of the different buildings. Buried artefacts and palaeoenvironmental evidence can contribute to our understanding of how people lived and worked, the extent and nature of trade and exchange, and the nature of the agricultural economy. The monument has high potential to contribute to our understanding of the nature of Iron Age and post-medieval settlement, the design and development of prehistoric defended enclosures and their reuse over time.

Contextual characteristics

The dun is a type of relatively small, defended settlement which characterises much of the coastal occupation of Argyll and Atlantic Scotland in later prehistory. Duns belong to a much broader category of later prehistoric settlement, which includes brochs, forts, crannogs, duns and hut circles. Altogether, over 500 later prehistoric settlements are known in Argyll. It is believed they represent the remains of the living spaces of small groups or single families. Researchers believe that visibility to and from duns was an important factor in their siting; they tend to be located on locally high ground and in prominent positions, as in this case. Before the advent of the forestry plantation, this site would have had excellent all-round views overlooking land westwards to Loch Awe and eastwards towards Glen Orchy, including over the approach along the Strath of Orchy.

Early Ordnance Survey mapping of the site, dating to 1870, indicates an established settlement comprising eight roofed buildings, five of which have conjoined enclosures, and a further two adjacent enclosures. In addition to the agricultural production taking place, documentary sources indicate that there was a smithy at or near this location. Later Ordnance Survey mapping indicates that changes had taken place at the site, with some buildings and enclosures reshaped or abandoned. One of the smaller buildings is known to have been occupied as late as the 1950s.

Barr a' Chaistealain has good potential to contribute to our understanding of the Iron Age and post-medieval occupation of Argyll. Comparison of the later settlement with other townships in the area, and with historic rural settlement sites in other parts of Scotland, could also enhance our understanding of regional variations in rural settlement, agriculture and small-scale industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. The site has high potential to add to our understanding of development and change in later prehistoric, post-medieval and early modern rural Scotland.

Associative characteristics

The dun appears on Ordnance Survey mapping as a fort, but has been described variously by researchers since then as a dun or homestead. It displays similar field characteristics as other sites in Argyll commonly referred to as duns.

In the post-medieval period, this area has been associated with the MacNabs who were hereditary blacksmiths and armourers to the Campbells of Breadalbane and are mentioned in the mid 15th century. However, the exact location of the historic smithy referred to in the documents is unknown. According to a local informant in 1962, the MacNab family's smithy was near the fort at Barr a' Chaistealain (that is, probably within the post-medieval settlement), but it was superseded by another smithy, some 190m to the N, which was mapped on the 1870 Ordnance Survey map.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as a good example of a later prehistoric stronghold on a site which was redeveloped as a rural settlement, probably including an historic smithy, over a thousand years later. This significant location has high potential to enhance our understanding of later prehistoric and post-medieval rural settlement, the architecture and functions of the various structures, the daily lives of their occupants and users, and the nature of their contacts further afield. The loss of the monument would significantly affect our ability to understand how these sites were built, used and reused during prehistory and in the historic period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the monument as NN12NE 2, 7 and 12. West of Scotland Archaeology Service records the site as WOSASPINs 1746, 1750 and 1755.

References

Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists, 1992, A preliminary field survey of Barr a' Chaistealain, Dalmally (= circulated typescript report).

RCAHMS, 1974, Argyll: an Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Volume 2, Lorn. p 80, no 157. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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