The Dun Deardail project

Archaeology master classes for volunteers, school visits, open days... even the chance to see how Iron Age tribes used fire to destroy impregnable ramparts.

These are just some of the things that will make our archaeological project at Dun Deardail one of the most exciting ever.

The project forms part of the Nevis Landscape Partnership. It will help us better understand the ancient hillfort and protect it for the future. But it’s also aimed at getting local people of all ages enthusiastic about archaeology and the historic environment.

dun deardail fort

What do we know about Dun Deardail?

The fort of Dun Deardail is built on a rocky knoll in Glen Nevis, with commanding views over the surrounding area.

It has never been excavated and no one knows exactly how old it is. However, experts think it might have been occupied between 700 BC and AD 900 – first in the Iron Age and then in Pictish times. Today, grass covers the fort, apart from a few blocks of masonry that poke through in places.

What will the project involve?

Using modern survey techniques and archaeological excavation, we aim to find out when (and how) the fort was built, who lived there and what it was used for. Any artefacts we find will help us understand what sort of lives the people lived and by investigating Dun Deardail we’ll be adding to the knowledge about hillforts all over Scotland.

We’ll also be recording and consolidating damaged areas, protecting the hillfort for the future and making it safer for people to visit.

Providing outreach and educational opportunities

The Dun Deardail Project will provide opportunities for volunteers to learn more about archaeological excavation and recording techniques. We’ll also be arranging a series of lectures and evening classes, setting up a website and blog and working with local schools. Our work will even by the subject of a PhD at the University of Stirling.

However, for many, the most exciting part of the project will be the experimental reconstruction of a vitrified rampart.

rampart illustration

What is vitrification?

The process of vitrifaction occurs when a timber-framed stone-built rampart is destroyed by fire – and the heat generated is so intense that the core of the stone rampart melts. Large blocks of conglomerated stone rubble can still be seen within the walls of the hillfort.

Vitrifaction is not a deliberate construction method (the original timber-framed drystone rampart would have been more stable) and is unlikely to have been the result of accidental fire. The heat required is such that the fires must have been deliberately set, the ramparts heaped with additional wood. Vitrifaction must be the result of a deliberate destruction event - perhaps after the capture of the fort or as a ceremonial burning following the death of a tribal chief or king.

We’ll be a step closer to finding out the truth when we build part of our own Iron Age fort, set it alight and stand well back!