Scheduled Monument

Dun Mac Sniachan, forts and dun, BenderlochSM2179

Status: Designated

Documents

Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (https://portal.historicenvironment.scot/termsandconditions).

The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.

Summary

Date Added
21/12/1961
Last Date Amended
19/03/2013
Type
Prehistoric domestic and defensive: dun; fort (includes hill fort and promontory fort)
Local Authority
Argyll And Bute
Parish
Ardchattan And Muckairn
NGR
NM 90315 38196
Coordinates
190315, 738196

Description

The monument is an impressive group of prehistoric defensive remains comprising two successive forts and a dun, dating to the Iron Age (between 500 BC and AD 500) and later. The monument is located on the summit of a steep-sided rock outcrop aligned NE-SW, known as Dun Mac Sniachan. It is visible as a series of grass-grown stony banks, with sections of exposed vitrified walling, enclosing the outcrop and two further areas within it. The outcrop rises to a height of 40m above sea level and is situated close to the NE shore of Ardmucknish Bay and overlooking Benderloch to the E. The monument was first scheduled in 1961, but the documentation does not meet modern standards: the present rescheduling rectifies this.

The earliest fort is the largest of the three, taking in much of the rocky outcrop. It covers an area measuring approximately 245m by 50m, enclosed by a wall running around the margin of the summit. The wall survives for much of the perimeter as a low grass-grown stony bank, though some sections of vitrified material can be traced. The entrance to this fort was located probably from the E where a natural gully ascends the outcrop. The later fort is much smaller and sits within its predecessor at the SW end of the ridge. The interior measures 52m by 21m and is enclosed by a vitrified wall, which is visible for the most part as a grass-covered stony bank, spread up to 6m wide in places and standing up to 1m high. On the NW edge the wall clearly overlies that of the earlier fort. On the SE edge of this fort a stretch of vitrified inner facing stones is exposed. The dun is situated at the NE (lower) end of the ridge and measures about 18.3m by 15.2m within a wall about 3m thick. The wall survives as a grass-grown bank of stony debris. Immediately SW of the dun are the remains of two outer walls running across the width of the outcrop, each with a gap in the centre forming an entrance. No corresponding entrance can be seen in the dun itself, although four large earthfast boulders are in alignment with the other entrances through the two ramparts and may indicate a blocked entranceway.

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.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

Despite considerable vegetation cover, much of the walling and earthworks survive and the main features and structural components of both of the forts and the dun are visible. There are numerous patches of exposed vitrified walling, including a considerable stretch on the SE edge of the later fort which stands over 1m high. The interiors of the structures appear relatively undisturbed despite the presence of trees and shrubs, and only a small area of the later fort has been excavated. There is excellent potential for the survival of important archaeological remains.

Limited archaeological excavation of the later fort in the 19th century revealed considerable stretches of vitrified walling in the later fort and evidence for modification and reconstruction of the fort during different phases. There were also traces of rectangular stone buildings within the fort and a number of finds were recovered, including a tanged iron sword, an iron dagger, iron ring, enamelled bronze circular mount, a bronze ring, several querns and a considerable quantity of animal bone. The excavation evidence places the later fort's construction and occupation around the early first millennium AD. The presence of an earlier fort and a later dun demonstrates that there is a considerable time-depth to the monument's development sequence, making it a particularly important site. There is good potential for the survival of further structures, sub-surface features, artefacts and ecofacts, all of which can provide information about the site's occupants and daily life, the construction, function and layout of both forts and the dun, and many other aspects of prehistoric society and economy. The site also has excellent potential to contribute towards the study of vitrified forts and to help further our understanding of their design, construction and purpose. Overall, this is a particularly important example of Iron Age and early historic defensive settlements of different forms and phases, and has excellent potential to enhance our understanding of the nature of such sites, their origins, development, use and re-use.

Contextual characteristics

The monument is a rare and impressive example of a group of three successive defensive sites occupying and re-using a rocky ridge. Whilst close proximity to similar sites is relatively common in Argyll, it is unusual to have three successive defensive structures constructed at the same location over a long period. A similar example is known at Dun Skeig in Kintyre where there are three successive sites comprising a fort and two duns. Dun Mac Sniachan is particularly interesting as it comprises two vitrified forts, which are far less common than duns in Argyll; and the dun itself is atypical as a notably large example with outworks.

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. Dun Mac Sniachan is a fine example of the exploitation of topography to help construct a defensible site. This isolated ridge is surrounded by sheer cliffs on most sides; it dominates the landscape and is in an ideal settlement location, close to the shore of Ardmucknish Bay and overlooking agricultural land. From the summit, there are excellent views in all directions, but especially out to sea and across to a number of other potentially related, broadly contemporary sites on the islands of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore.

Its importance is enhanced by its close proximity to the supposed location of 'Beregonium', the legendary capital of the Dalriada. The Scottish philosopher, Hector Boece, located this site just to the SE of Dun Mac Sniachan in his 'Scoturum Historiae', written in the 16th century. This monument has much to tell us about the factors influencing choice of location, the importance of defence and protection, and the significance of visibility to and from and between these sites. The continued or repeated use and re-use of this important location has the potential to illuminate the patterns of landownership and the division of land during the Iron Age. It is clear that this was a significant place to many generations of prehistoric people.

Associative characteristics

The place-name 'Dun Mac Sniachan' indicates the presence of a defensive settlement and suggests the site has been occupied over a long period. Both forts and the dun are shown on the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map: the southernmost fort is labelled as 'vitrified', while the dun is labelled as 'stone circle (remains of)'. Today the site is popular for its views with walkers and visitors: access to the summit is up the gentler NE slope along a well-worn grassy path.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance as an excellent and rare example of three successive defensive sites in use or re-used from at least the Iron Age into the early historic period. The defensive works and sections of vitrified walling are well preserved and there is high potential for surviving artefactual and ecofactual remains and structures within and around the forts and dun. The site has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular the design and construction of Iron Age and later defensive sites, their occupation and reuse over time, and the links these places 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.

References

Bibliography

Feachem, R W 1977, Guide to prehistoric Scotland, London, pp. 109.

Harding, D W 1997, 'Forts, duns, brochs and crannogs: Iron Age settlements in Argyll', in Ritchie, G, The archaeology of Argyll, Edinburgh, pp. 131.

MacKie, E W 1976a, 'The vitrified forts of Scotland', in Harding, D W, Hillforts: later prehistoric earthworks in Britain and Ireland, London, pp. 227, 233-4.

Nisbet, H C 1974a, 'A geological approach to vitrified forts, part I: the archaeological and scientific background', Sci & Archaeol, vol. 12, pp. 4, 5, 7.

Nisbet, H C 1975a, 'A geological approach to vitrified forts, part II: bedrock and building stone', Sci & Archaeol, vol. 15, pp. 12.

RCAHMS 1975, The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Argyll: an inventory of the ancient monuments: vol. 2: Lorn, Edinburgh, pp. 69-70.

Smith, R A 1875a, 'Descriptive list of antiquities near Loch Etive. Part III', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 10, pp. 78-80.

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Printed: 15/05/2021 17:27