The monument is Dun Hasan, a small fort dating from the Iron Age (800BC – 500AD), and two enclosures set on the headland of Rubha Nam Brathairean, and a quernstone quarry that extends along the headland's north and east shores. Dun Hasan occupies the highest point on the headland rising 30m above sea level and is visible as low stone walls and earth banks. The two enclosures are located on flat areas of ground to the northeast of Dun Hasan. They are visible as intermittent low banks with evidence of four structures in the northeast enclosure. The quarry is visible as circular marks in the rock where quern stones have been quarried. It is mainly located between the low and high water lines and extends around the north and east sides of the headland for at least 250m. The monument lies on the east coast of the Trotternish Peninsula on the Isle of Skye. There are extensive views north and south along the coast, southeast to the islands of Raasay and Rona, and east to the Scottish mainland.
Dun Hasan stands some 20m above the rest of the headland. Its small level summit area measures about 20m by 8m and is bounded by low stone walls built into the cliffs on the west and southwest sides and by earth banks to the north and east. A rock-cut approach up the west face leads through a break in the walling. To the northeast, a break in the bank leads down onto the lower part of the headland, which is divided by a depression 20m wide into two large enclosures. The first measures around 80m by 60m with slight, intermittent remains of an enclosing bank. Beyond the second enclosure measures about 60m by 33m and is bounded by low earth and stone enclosing walls. Within this enclosure are the footings of at least four structures including two circular or oval platforms with dished interiors, and two subrectangular structures defined by low banks. Evidence for quern quarrying is seen around the entire north and east coastline, stretching for around 250m. Here the rocks are marked by shallow holes where disc-shaped quern stones measuring 350mm – 400mm in diameter have been removed. The foreshore is accessible from the northeast tip of the headland, but the extraction areas along the east shore are separated from the enclosures by low cliffs.
The scheduled area is irregular on plan and covers most of the headland of Rubha Nam Braithairean, extending to the high water mark to the west and northwest and to the low water mark to the north and east. 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.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance has been assessed as follows:
The monument comprises a rare combination of archaeological remains (a dun with associated quern quarry) which survives in very good condition. There are signs that part of the bank on the south-west side of Dun Hasan may have been exposed and recorded archaeologically, but there is no record of an excavation at the site and the intervention appears to have been minimal.
The rare combination of features and the level of preservation are important parts of the monument's intrinsic characteristics. Dun Hasan itself is an excellent example of a dun, sited on a craggy outcrop augmented by stone walls and banks. Duns were structures that could have accommodated an extended family or provided a stronghold for the exercise of control or for use as a refuge. The construction of these sites is often understood in terms of elite settlement. Other interpretations have stressed their likely role as fortified or defensive sites, possibly serving a community across a wider area. Dun Hasan is unusual in that it has two entranceways that probably controlled access to and from the headland. Set north of and below Dun Hasan, the remainder of the headland is lower, grass covered and edged by cliffs and rocky shores. Some researchers have suggested that the enclosures here indicate an Early Historic monastic settlement (Canmore ID 11536), but there is no clear evidence for a monastic function. The fact that the area of quern extraction terminates in line with Dun Hasan suggests the quarrying activity may be related to occupation of the dun.
The monument has very high potential to support future scientific research, which could tell us more about its function and date. The varied features include enclosure walls and banks and building platforms. By analogy with excavated duns and prehistoric settlements, there is potential for additional, buried structural remains that can tell us about prehistoric architecture and construction methods; and for deposits rich in occupation debris, artefacts and ecofacts that can tell us about how people lived, their trade and exchange contacts, and their social status. There are few precise scientific dates for duns on Skye and their dating has traditionally been based on typological studies of artefacts recovered from such sites. The presence of associated structures, such as the larger enclosures and building footings, indicates this site has a complex development sequence.
The quern quarry adds a further dimension and significant additional interest. The disc-shaped stones extracted here would have been rotary querns, used in pairs and rotated by hand to mill cereals into flour. Stone rotary querns have been used in the Highlands and Isle of Skye from the Iron Age to the 19th century. The quarry may have produced querns in one specific era, or over many hundreds of years or may have been re-opened and quarried after previous abandonment. The remains demonstrate how quern stones were quarried; some disc-shaped hollows are found side by side, others in vertical piles, reflecting different types of extraction. Some of the remains are failed attempts at the quern quarrying process with the unfinished quern broken and left partially attached to the rock. Other remains include the initial outline of the circular quern with no further attempt at quarrying the disc.
Scientific research offers the potential to date its use and geological analysis of the stone could allow researchers to link querns found on dated settlement sites with this quarry. Further research may also allow us to explore the relationship between the quern quarry, the structures and the dun; there is potential that this was a defended, prehistoric industrial site with the dun controlling exploitation of quernstones. Rubha Nam Brathairean is therefore a highly unusual monument offering the opportunity to study various aspects of prehistoric life with the potential to focus on economic and industrial practices and their control by elites.
Duns are a widespread class of monument across western and northern Scotland. This example is one of a larger local group on the Isle of Skye. Only 2km west of Dun Hasan is Dun Connavern (Canmore ID 11534) while 3km southwest of Dun Hasan lies Dun Tavison (Canmore ID 11527). It is likely that Dun Connavern had a direct line of sight with Dun Hasan and the close proximity suggests links between the sites, if they are contemporary. This proximity enhances potential for comparative study on a local and national scale to better understand the function of such monuments, their interrelationship and the significance of their placing within the landscape, in particular in relation to prehistoric social hierarchy, changing settlement patterns, socio-economic contacts, industry and even systems of inheritance.
Confirmed examples of quern quarries are extremely rare in Scotland. Igneous stone is an ideal material for quern stones; the widespread availability of this material across Scotland has led researchers to suggest that most communities had reasonable local access to querns and that large, centralised quarries were not required (McLaren and Hunter 2008, 106). However, this monument is one of a small number of identified quarries in western Scotland where roughouts were carved from outcrops; three other known sites lie near Loch Fyne in Argyll, on North Uist, and in Assynt (McLaren and Hunter 2008, 106). None of these sites is securely dated, but the rarity of large quern quarries gives this monument particular significance and suggests an unusual concentration of activity.
The monument occupies the entire headland extending north-east into the sea. There are very extensive open views across the Sound of Raasay to nearby islands and further afield to the Scottish mainland and the Isle of Lewis. This monument would have been a prominent feature and clearly visible from within the landscape and especially from the sea.
There are no known associative characteristics which contribute to the site's cultural significance.
Statement of National Importance
The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of prehistoric and later society on Skye and the function, use and development of duns, enclosed settlements and quern quarries. The dun and quern quarry are well-preserved with excellent field characteristics. Two additional enclosures lie northeast of the dun, one containing evidence for structures of at least two types and there is high potential for both structural remains and occupation debris. The dun is a prominent feature in the landscape and would have been an important part of the prehistoric landscape. The quern quarry is a rare type of site and it may have been in use at the same time as the dun. The monument offers unique potential to study a defended, prehistoric site that may have been used to exercise control over quern stone production. As a unique example of a large quern quarry with associated dun, the loss of the monument would significantly diminish the contribution of quern quarries to our understanding the past.
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE IDs 11536 and 305347 (accessed on 14/11/2016).
The Highland Council HER reference is MHG 52601 (accessed on 14/11/2016).
Geological Survey of Scotland, 1964 1:63,360/1:50,000 geological map series, sheet 80, Northern Skye, Drift
Feachem, R, 1963, A guide to prehistoric Scotland. London.
Hunter, F, 2009, Notes from a field trip to Rubha Nam Brathairean, Staffin Skye, Highland Council HER.
Jansen, O J, 2012. 'The quern stone quarry at Rubha Nam Brathairean headland, Staffin, Isle of Skye – a short report', University Museum of Bergen – The Natural History Collections. Bergen, Norway.
Mainland and Hunter, R and F, 2009, 'Rubha nam Brathairean, Highland (Kilmuir parish), possible quern quarry', Discovery and Excavation Scotland, vol. 10. Wiltshire.
McLaren, D, and Hunter, F, 2008, 'New aspects of rotary querns in Scotland', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 138, p105-128. Edinburgh.
RCAHMS, 1928, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Ninth report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the Outer Hebrides, Skye and the Small Isles. London.
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Printed: 29/11/2022 10:17