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Duntroon, fort 140m north of Duntroon Lodge

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Argyll, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 56.1059 / 56°6'21"N

Longitude: -5.5347 / 5°32'4"W

OS Eastings: 180295

OS Northings: 695978

OS Grid: NR802959

Mapcode National: GBR DDQK.TW0

Mapcode Global: WH0HW.YSLJ

Entry Name: Duntroon, fort 140m N of Duntroon Lodge

Scheduled Date: 16 November 1933

Last Amended: 19 March 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM240

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilmartin

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Mid Argyll

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument is a prehistoric defended settlement or fort, in use probably during the Bronze Age and Iron Age (between about 2000 BC and AD 500), with some evidence of earlier occupation of the same site. The fort is located on a substantial natural rock outcrop, with its visible elements covering an area approximately 140m NE-SW by 80m NW-SE (maximum). The remains of a partly vitrified, stone wall define an oval-shaped enclosure, except on the NW where a natural cliff, 15m high, completes the circuit. An outer wall was noted around the edge of a lower terrace forming a three-sided enclosure, again with the cliff providing adequate defence on the NW. A further three lengths of stone walling are also recorded: two to the SW and the third to the NNE. The fort sits on a ridge above the shore at Loch Crinan, at approximately 20m above sea level, with good views to the south and west across the Sound of Jura. The monument was first scheduled in 1933, 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 elements of a power line, dry stone wall and wire fence 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 overall footprint of the fort and its structural components are clear and much of the main walling has survived. The outcrop on which the fort was built is relatively inaccessible, which is likely to have contributed to the stability and survival of archaeological deposits. The fort's interior is partly overgrown with trees and shrubs, but appears relatively undisturbed otherwise.

Limited archaeological excavation of the fort in 1904 recovered a significant assemblage of artefacts, including 36 saddle querns, hammerstones, whetstones, flint scrapers, flakes and cores, and a piece of worked jet. These finds indicate that a range of ordinary domestic and agricultural processing activities took place and appear to confirm that the site was first and foremost a domestic settlement, rather than a fortification. The presence of so many saddle querns strongly suggests the occupants were grinding barley and oats, presumably harvested from the fields below the fort. On the basis of the artefacts, researchers have concluded that the earliest occupation of the site could have occurred in the Neolithic period, but that the site was certainly in use in the Bronze Age, as well as the Iron Age. The site therefore has high potential for a considerable time-depth and lengthy development sequence, possibly spanning 3,000 years or more, although it is not known whether it was occupied continuously or intermittently.

The main oval-shaped enclosure encloses an area about 45m by 27m and is defined by a wall which is over 2m thick in places. The 1904 excavations revealed extensive vitrification of the main wall, for which this fort is well known. It is believed the massive wall was originally constructed with strengthening beams of timber and subsequently fired from the inside, leading to vitrification of the wall-core and strengthening of the wall. The excavators noted evidence of intense heat and 'a large quantity of charred wood' up to 4m inside the wall, but only 1m on the outside. It is not clear whether this derived from timber-lacing or from wooden buildings abutting the inner wall-face. No internal structures are visible on the ground surface, but there is high potential for further archaeological evidence to survive below ground. The outer wall enclosing the terrace has been severely robbed and is obscured by vegetation and difficult to see on the ground today, but it was apparently about 80m NE-SW by 50m transversely. The 1904 investigations noted that this wall incorporated several isolated masses of vitrification, derived presumably from the oval enclosure, indicating either that it was a later work or that it was repaired with material from the inner (oval) enclosure.

Duntroon is a good example of how natural landforms were exploited to best effect in building defended settlements. The fort is protected by a steep cliff about 15m high along its NW side, while a narrow gulley impedes access from the north. The lower terrace provides additional space within the fort, but its enclosing wall also provides additional protection. It is mainly on the SW and SE flanks of the ridge that further defences were necessary in the form of a series of outworks. The position of the entrance is not clear. There is an apparent opening in the NW of the oval-shaped enclosure, but this would have been a precipitous approach.

Overall, Duntroon is an important example of a prehistoric fortification because of its early date, longevity of occupation, apparent complexity of construction and the confirmed presence of a rich assemblage of artefacts.

Contextual characteristics

This is one example from a class of over 110 enclosed and defensible structures in mid-Argyll, variously known as enclosures, forts and duns. Most of these defended settlements are believed to date from the second half of the first millennium BC (the Iron Age), but several are known to originate in the Bronze Age or even earlier, including this one. They were built to protect individual families and groups, and often reveal long periods of use and reuse. Researchers have classified this monument as a fort (rather than a dun) because of its size and scale, including its multiple enclosing walls, which suggest it is likely to have been built and occupied by a group or community, rather than a single family. Forts are less common than duns in western Scotland, representing perhaps 10% of the total number of defensive enclosures. Despite the difficulties of classifying these monuments, they do reflect the general distribution of later prehistoric communities and their settlements in Scotland.

Duns and forts in Argyll are frequently as impressive for their location as their preservation, and they vary considerably in terms of size and complexity. Several hill- and ridge-top forts enclose large areas within their defences, but Duntroon is typical in having no unequivocal surface traces of contemporary internal structures. There appears to have been a wide chronological span of stone-walled fort and dun building and further work is needed to develop our understanding of the chronological, structural and cultural patterns they represent. However, previous investigations at Duntroon have helped to shape our understanding of forts so far, and vitrified forts in particular, in Argyll and further afield.

The position of duns and forts in the landscape is an important consideration, particularly their proximity to cultivable land below, which must have provided the economic base, and their relationship with the sea or sea lochs for communication, visibility and keeping watch. Stone-walled structures in Argyll are often quite close to other potentially contemporary defensive sites, but their relationship with each other and their integration within their landscape setting is poorly understood.

Associative characteristics

The prefix 'Dun' in the place-name 'Duntroon' signifies the likelihood of an early castle or fortress in the area, pre-dating the medieval Duntrune Castle which lies close by.

The monument is of national importance as a good example of a prehistoric vitrified fort and its outworks, which was apparently in use or reused over a period of at least two millennia and probably longer. The monument is notable because of its apparently early date and its size and scale, including multiple enclosing walls, suggesting that it preserves a complex development sequence, as well as the confirmed presence of a rich assemblage of artefacts. The drystone and part-vitrified walling of the oval enclosure is reasonably well preserved. Despite the lack of visible internal structures, there is high potential for the survival of well-preserved archaeological remains within and immediately outside the fort, including further artefacts and palaeoenvironmental evidence in buried layers, such as the fills of pits and hollows. The site has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the origins, design and construction of prehistoric defensive sites, the nature of their occupation and reuse over time, and the contacts they had with contemporary sites elsewhere, particularly in western Scotland and the Irish Sea region. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early Scottish communal fortifications.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the site as CANMORE 39450. West of Scotland Archaeology Service records the site as WOSASPIN 4040.

References

Campbell, M and Sandeman, M, 1964. 'Mid Argyll: an archaeological survey', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, 95, 55, 118.

Christison, D, 1905, 'Report on the Society's excavations of forts on the Poltalloch Estate, Argyll, in 1904-5', Proc Soc Antiq Scot 39, 270-85.

Ritchie, G, 2002, The Archaeology of Argyll. Edinburgh University.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1988, Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 6: Mid-Argyll and Cowal, prehistoric and early historic monuments, Edinburgh.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1999, Kilmartin. Prehistoric & early historic monuments: an inventory of the monuments extracted from Argyll volume 6. Edinburgh.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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