Ancient Monuments

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Dun nan Nighean, dun, Islay

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

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Latitude: 55.8343 / 55°50'3"N

Longitude: -6.4561 / 6°27'21"W

OS Eastings: 121088

OS Northings: 669107

OS Grid: NR210691

Mapcode National: GBR BFF9.CLN

Mapcode Global: WGYGJ.SMV5

Entry Name: Dun nan Nighean, dun, Islay

Scheduled Date: 6 June 2013

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13215

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: dun

Location: Kilchoman

County: Argyll and Bute

Electoral Ward: Kintyre and the Islands

Traditional County: Argyllshire


The monument is a prehistoric defended settlement or dun, likely to date from the Iron Age (between 500 BC and AD 500). The dun comprises a substantial drystone wall, over 6m wide in places and standing up to 1.6m high, which encloses part of a dramatic coastal promontory. The enclosed area measures 17m by 15m. On the SE side, several rock-cut steps lead into the dun's interior, on the NW side of the promontory, just outside the enclosure, there is a sub-oval underground chamber of drystone construction with a corbelled slab roof. The dun is situated 20m above sea level on the NW coast of Islay, with extensive views westwards across the exposed sea channel W and SW of Islay.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include 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.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

The dun takes advantage of a naturally defensive position on a steep rock outcrop with limited access from the SE across the narrow promontory. The enclosure wall runs around the summit of the promontory. It is best preserved in the NE arc where it survives up to 10 courses high. The sole entrance is in the SE arc. In places the wall has collapsed and the spread of rubble and core material is likely to have sealed deeper archaeological deposits. The dun retains a number of particularly interesting features, not often found at such sites, marking this out as an important survival. Two flights of rock-cut steps run up to the dun interior on the SE side, with a possible socket-hole visible in one. Outside the dun on the NW side is an underground chamber, possibly used for storage or as a place of refuge. On the SE arc of the enclosing wall, there may be the remains of a gatehouse and, possibly, an intra-mural gallery or cell.

Overall, the dun survives in good condition and it has not been disturbed by robbing or past excavation. Significant evidence for its form and construction is likely to be preserved. There is high potential for the survival of buried deposits and features beneath and beyond the walls and within the dun interior. Investigation of the interior could enhance our understanding of how the dun was used and how this may have changed over time. 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. Pollen and other environmental analyses can indicate the character of the contemporary landscape and provide evidence for how the inhabitants managed and farmed the land. The monument therefore has the potential to contribute to our understanding of the nature of Iron Age settlement and the design and development of these defended enclosures.

Contextual characteristics

This type of defended settlement characterises much of the coastal occupation of Argyll and Atlantic Scotland in later prehistory. Islay is particularly abundant in duns, with 49 known examples, mostly clustered on the Rinns and in the S and SE of the island. They 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 that duns represent the remains of living spaces of small groups or single families. They are largely a coastal phenomenon and tend to be located on locally high ground, along prominent coastal routes or within easy reach of the coast. Researchers think that the visibility of duns was an important factor in their location. This particular example has extensive views westwards across the exposed sea channel to the W of Islay.

The surrounding area is rich in later prehistoric settlement remains, including other broadly contemporary defensive settlements, such as the much larger Dun Bheolain fort which lies immediately to the S. 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.

Associative characteristics

The headland is named as 'Dun nan Nighean' on early Ordnance Survey mapping, which indicates both its antiquity and its early recognition as a defended settlement.

The immediate area was visited by the Welsh antiquary, Thomas Pennant, in the late 18th century. Pennant recorded a tradition that underground chambers served as a hiding-place during times of invasion; it is possible that the underground chamber here was used for such a purpose.

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 later prehistoric, defended settlements in western Scotland and their place in the wider economy and society. There is good potential for well-preserved archaeological remains to survive within and immediately outside the dun. These buried remains can tell us much about the people who built and lived in the settlement 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 period.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland




RCAHMS 1984a, 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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