Ancient Monuments

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Prehistoric settlement, north and west of Culduthel Mains Circle

A Scheduled Monument in Inverness South, Highland

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Latitude: 57.4439 / 57°26'37"N

Longitude: -4.2299 / 4°13'47"W

OS Eastings: 266265

OS Northings: 841478

OS Grid: NH662414

Mapcode National: GBR H9X1.R5J

Mapcode Global: WH4GP.0519

Entry Name: Prehistoric settlement, north and west of Culduthel Mains Circle

Scheduled Date: 29 August 2022

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13754

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Prehistoric domestic and defensive: hut circle, roundhouse

Location: Inverness and Bona

County: Highland

Electoral Ward: Inverness South

Traditional County: Inverness-shire


The monument is a prehistoric settlement dating to the Iron Age (800BC – 500AD). The monument comprises buried archaeological remains and the site of excavated features. These include roundhouses, craftworking buildings with iron smelting furnaces, multi-purpose hearths and waste material from production processes. The monument is located at around 50m above sea level in an area of landscaped ground and scrub to the north and west of Culduthel Mains Circle.

The monument comprises the buried remains and excavated features of five roundhouses and six craftworking workshops and an area in which other associated archaeological remains can be expected to be found. These have been radiocarbon dated to between 360BC and 340AD. Excavations have shown that the roundhouses were built using a ring of timber posts which supported the roof structure. These houses measured between around 9.70m to 18m internal diameter. Two of the larger houses, with internal diameters of 17m and 18m, appear to have been primarily domestic in nature. The workshops were built in a similar way with the addition of a porch area on their north-east sides. They tended to be smaller domestic buildings ranging from around 4m to 9m in diameter. Two of had iron smelting furnaces within them, while a further two had hearths which may indicate iron working.

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The following is excluded from the scheduled area: 

• Above ground elements of all modern fence lines 

• The top 300mm of communal amenity ground adjoining residential properties (Culduthel Mains Circle) and bounded to the north, west and southwest by the bottom of slope.  

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17):

a.   The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as an Iron Age settlement which functioned as a craftworking centre, comprising domestic roundhouses, metalworking buildings with internal furnaces and hearths in Scotland. At the time of assessment, it is the best documented example of such a site type. 

b.   The monument retains structural and archaeological attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. Buried features such as round houses and craftworking buildings could provide material for radiocarbon dating and environmental analysis as well as artefacts. Detailed study of the roundhouses, craftworking buildings and associated structures can tell us about their construction, use, reuse, repair and abandonment. 

c.   The monument is a rare example of an Iron Age settlement which functioned as craftworking centre. 

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of an Iron Age settlement and craftworking centre incorporating both workshops and domestic buildings and is therefore an important representative of this monument type. 

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding of the past. Excavations at the monument have already revealed information about the lifestyle of the inhabitants and the nature of the local economy such as agriculture and trade. The unexcavated elements of the monument have the potential to increase our understanding of these elements of Iron Age society. 

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape by providing evidence of both craftworking (iron, copper and glass) and settlement in a highland context. The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the wider historic landscape, in particular, the distribution and size of settlements, land use and the extent of human impact on the local environment over time.

Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The monument is a complex of timber domestic roundhouses and specialised craftworking buildings dating to the Iron Age which was discovered as part of a wider excavation on land at Culduthel Mains (Hatherley and Murray 2021). The monument has been partially excavated but a substantial part of the monument lies outwith the excavated area and is likely to contain undisturbed archaeological deposits. The main phase of craftworking at Culduthel saw the construction of had ten workshops and four domestic roundhouses. Towards the end of the occupation of the settlement a further large roundhouse was constructed. Iron, copper and glass were all produced on the site and the archaeological excavations suggest that other crafts such as leatherworking may have taken place. Four of the workshops and the copper and glass working area are located under modern housing. This area has not been included in the designation. 

The roundhouses and craftworking buildings at Culduthel are similar to other Iron Age structures. Five roundhouses associated with the craftworking centre were revealed during the excavations. Two of the roundhouses were large (around 17m - 18m internal diameter) and the excavations revealed that they had been repaired and remodelled over an extended period of time. One of the house sites was in use for a considerable length of time; there were three successive houses built on this specific site. The two larger houses shared architectural similarities – both had an internal ring-ditch cut into the ground, and had features such as floors, steps and partitions. These houses which were dated to the early 1st millennium AD have parallels with other excavated examples such as at Douglasmuir Angus (Canmore ID 35472), Bellfield, North Kessock (Canmore ID 145866) and Birnie, Moray (Canmore ID 158983). The two smaller houses may have been used for craftworking or storage, however, no definitive evidence of this was found during the excavations.

The remainder of the structures on the site were workshops. These were smaller, with a diameter of up to 9m internally, and with distinctive porches. Two of the workshops had iron smelting furnaces, another two had evidence of iron smelting or associated activities, and two more were without evidence of metal working. The furnaces were rebuilt on multiple occasions suggesting that there was extended periods of iron working activity. 

In addition to the structural remains a wide range of finds was uncovered from the excavations, both artefactual and environmental. These include an assemblage of glass and enamel unique in Scotland and rare in Britain. Some had been imported from the Eastern Mediterranean and with other artefacts showed clear links with the Roman Empire. Large quantity of metal working debris, tools and domestic objects were also found as well as stone tools such as polishers and grinders for non-metal working crafts. Environmental deposits including wood, fruit pips and cereal produced a range of radiocarbon dates. These show that the area in which the monument is located in was occupied from the Neolithic/ Chalcolithic (Copper Age: between 3760BC to 2240BC) to the Late Iron Age (360BC to 340AD). There were two gaps of occupation of the area, between 2240BC – 810BC (Chalcolithic to early Iron Age) and between 490BC - 360BC (Mid to Late Iron Age). It is possible that occupation continued during these gaps and that the available radiocarbon dates do not provide a complete chronology. Further research may increase our understanding of the dates of occupation of the site.

The monument at Culduthel contain features that have well preserved stratified layers of archaeological deposits. There is therefore potential for the survival of archaeological features and deposits, including occupation, craftworking and abandonment debris, artefacts and environmental remains such as charcoal or pollen within the buildings. It has the potential to provide further information about the function and date of the features and their relationship to each other. Further study of the monument's form and construction techniques compared with other similar sites would enhance our understanding of the development sequence of this site. In addition, this site has the potential to tell us about the wider prehistoric landscape, the lifestyle of its inhabitants and the nature of the local economy, for example agriculture as well as trade and contact with other contemporary settlements and more widely with the Roman Empire, both in the local area and across Scotland as a whole.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

The monument is located on sloping northwest-facing ground above the Beauly Firth. It lies at the base of a steep slope formed by a broad sand and gravel moraine beside the Big Burn, which is a tributary of the River Ness. The monument is now located within an area of housing, however, historically, this was within an open agricultural landscape with a large number of other prehistoric monuments in close proximity. These include Lower Slackbuie, enclosed settlement (scheduled monument SM5218), Balloan (Canmore ID 13525) and Culduthel Mains (Canmore ID 221384). These settlements contain a mixture of roundhouses, palisaded enclosures and associated feature and are broadly contemporary with the unenclosed settlement and craftworking centre at Culduthel.

The monument is a rare example of its class and a component of the wider contemporary prehistoric landscape of settlement and agricultural. It therefore has the potential to help us understand more of the nature, development and the interrelationships of prehistoric settlement and activity, along the Ness estuary and more widely in the Highlands and across Scotland as a whole.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

There are no known associative characteristics that contribute to this monument's national importance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 163581 (accessed on 14/06/2022).

Local Authority HER Reference MHG49950 (accessed on 14/06/2022).

Hatherley, C and Murray, R (2021). Culduthel: An Iron Age Craftworking Centre in North-East Scotland. Edinburgh.


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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