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Dun Bheolain, fort, Islay

A Scheduled Monument in Kintyre and the Islands, Argyll and Bute

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Coordinates

Latitude: 55.833 / 55°49'58"N

Longitude: -6.4572 / 6°27'26"W

OS Eastings: 121007

OS Northings: 668965

OS Grid: NR210689

Mapcode National: GBR BFF9.C2T

Mapcode Global: WGYGJ.SN96

Entry Name: Dun Bheolain, fort, Islay

Scheduled Date: 6 June 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13214

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kilchoman

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a substantial promontory fort occupying a distinctive coastal headland on the NW coast of Islay. The visible remains reflect two or more phases of use, the earliest of which is likely to be later prehistoric in origin (between 500 BC and AD 500). The headland is surrounded by steep sea cliffs on all but the SE (landward) side, which rises towards the end of the headland in two distinct terraces. Two walls run across the two narrowest parts of the headland. The outer (easternmost) wall is over 70m in length and up to 4m wide and extends across the lower slopes of the neck of the headland. The inner wall lies 60m above (W of) the first and survives as two overlapping sections of walling measuring more than 80m long by 3m wide; it curves across the neck of the promontory and around its N and NE sides. The outermost wall encloses a substantial area of the headland, approximately 300m WNW to ESE by 130m NE to SW. The fort interior, now used as rough grazing, comprises three distinct, wedge-shaped areas between summits and terraces. Within the interior, a number of hollows and platforms are likely to represent the remains of dwellings or structures. A turf wall overlies the outer wall and an area of rig and furrow cultivation is visible between this and the inner wall. The highest point on the headland is approximately 70m above sea level.

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The scheduled area is irregular on plan and extends beyond the base of the rock outcrop on which the monument is sited. Its seaward extent is defined as the mean high water spring mark. Its landward extent is defined by a line 5m ESE of the easternmost (outer) stone wall. The scheduled area includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, 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

This substantial fort reflects significant efforts to cut off and protect a prominent headland. The promontory is a naturally well-defended site with sheer cliffs on three sides, but these natural defences are supplemented by two substantial walls built across the promontory, effectively separating the headland from land to its E. The remains of the walls now stand only 0.5m high, but some facing-stones are still visible in places. The inner wall (to the W) comprises two overlapping sections, which skilfully incorporate bedrock into their structure. A few sections of outer facing-stones remain in position; the spread of collapsed material suggests an original wall thickness of at least 3m. Only a few outer facing-stones of the outer defensive wall survive, but some are massive: one is 2m long. All three sections of walling have breaks in their length, likely to be the positions of entrances.

The interior surface is rough and uneven, but numerous platforms and hollows have been identified, for instance, seven small rectangular platforms cut into the slope below the summit of the easternmost peak. Buried archaeological remains are likely to enhance our understanding of the function and date of these features. Three similar platforms survive in the entrance area of the outer wall, and may be associated with the rig and furrow cultivation and turf-covered bank that overlie the outer wall.

Overall, this is an impressive monument in an impressive coastal location. Although the precise dates of its construction and occupation are unknown, researchers believe there were at least two major episodes of use: firstly, in the later prehistoric period (as with other promontory forts); and secondly, in the medieval or later period, as evidenced by the rig and furrow remains, the platforms and turf-covered walling. Future investigation of the fort could provide detailed information about its date, form and construction, and examination of the interior could contribute to our understanding of how this exposed and relatively remote landform was used, and how this may have changed over time. Buried artefacts and palaeoenvironmental evidence can contribute to our understanding of how its occupants lived and worked and the extent and nature of trade and exchange. The monument is in generally good condition, which suggests there is high potential for the survival of structural, artefactual and environmental evidence below ground.

Contextual characteristics

Dun Bheolain is the largest promontory fort in Islay, occupying a distinctive coastal promontory with a seaward outlook to the W and southwards over the SW coast of Islay. Much of the occupation of Argyll and Atlantic Scotland in later prehistory and the early historic period is characterised by defended settlements on promontories or rocky outcrops along the coast. The visible remains here are part of a much broader category of later prehistoric settlement, which includes brochs, forts, crannogs, duns and hut circles. Altogether, over 500 defended settlements are known in Argyll and in Islay, Dun Bheolain is part of a wider network of broadly contemporary sites, including some 50 sites characterised as duns. Larger defended settlements, such as Dun Bheolain, are believed to have been occupied by larger groups of people and to have played a role in the wider community. Researchers have suggested they were positioned in places which would have been visible from far afield and from other contemporary sites; and that this was just as important as having good visibility from a monument. Dun Bheolain has excellent views towards the sea and along the coast. It lies very close to a neighbouring site, Dun nan Nighean, which occupies a smaller promontory immediately to the N. A comparative study of these two monuments in their wider landscape context could enhance our understanding of site location and settlement patterns, as well as the connections between similar and other types of broadly contemporary site in later prehistory. The site is also interesting because of its later, agricultural reuse, which is a common phenomenon on the islands. Overall, Dun Bheolain has high potential to enhance our understanding of late prehistoric and later life in Islay and in Argyll.

Associative characteristics

The headland is referred to as Dun Bheolain on early Ordnance Survey mapping, which indicates both its antiquity and its early recognition as a defended settlement or dun. Records suggest that the name 'Bheolain' refers to a chieftain of the same name who was buried here, but there is no archaeological evidence to substantiate this.

The immediate area was visited by the Welsh antiquary, Thomas Pennant, in the late 18th century. He noted the presence of 'small holes' which were large enough to 'hold a single man in a sitting posture'.

National Importance

This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular, the design and construction of large defended settlements and coastal headlands in western Scotland, and their place in the wider economy and society. There is good potential for the survival of well-preserved archaeological remains within the fort. These buried remains can tell us much about the people who built and lived here and the connections they had with other groups. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand the occupation of Argyll in the later prehistoric and later periods.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

References

RCAHMS, 1984 ,The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the monuments volume 5: Islay, Jura, Colonsay and Oronsay, Edinburgh

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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