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Publication Account

Date 2007

Event ID 587223

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account




This large dun or small hillfort on Iona (Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon) is included here only because of the pottery found. The site is on a rocky summit, precipitous on three sides, but the details of the actual defensive wall are obscure; the area enclosed measures about 35m by 40m. Excavations under the auspices of the Dept. of Archaeology in Edinburgh University took place from 1957 to 1959, and again in 1969, and uncovered extensive occupation debris with Iron Age decorated pottery [2-4]. The site was eventually written up by staff of the Royal Commission [5] and some further pottery found later was described by Topping [7].

In addition to the pottery, described below, two small yellow glass beads were found.

The pottery (Illus 8.266 and 8.267)

The significance of the pottery found only becomes clear when it is related to that from other sites in the Western Isles. The material illustrated in the two reports has not been seen personally by the author but he possesses a foolscap sheet of paper with drawings of other pottery from the site shown to him in about 1968, after the second season of work at the site (quarto and foolscap were the two sizes of typing paper which were in use until the late 1960s or early 1970s, when they were replaced by the international A4 size). These seem to be some of the sherds which could not be found when the reports was written; they are published here for the first time, with the kind permission of the overall director of the project, Charles Thomas.

Broadly this latter assemblage seemed to the author at the time to consist of two markedly different traditions. In the first place there were a fair number of coarsely-made Everted Rim sherds, a few showing the decoration of the Clettraval sub-style so common on Tiree – decorative con-centric arches of channelled lines above the applied zig-zag cordon. The second tradition suggests elements of the assemblage found at the early Iron Age hut site at Balevullin, Tiree (NL94 2); nos. 1 and 2 are particularly similar to a group of small, hard-fired pots from that site. A third important point is the complete absence of Vaul ware vases and urns (decorated with elaborate geometrical patterns of incised lines) which was found in quantity with Clettraval ware at Dun Mor Vaul on Tiree (NM04 4), only seventeen miles across the sea to the north-west from Iona.


Although Iona is the furthest place south that Everted Rim ware, and its Clettraval sub-style, have been found, Dun Cul Bhuirg bears no resemblance structurally to the brochs and stone roundhouses of Atlantic Scotland. The presence of the ware on Iona seems to be another example of how material culture and drystone structures were not automatically associated in the middle Iron Age; the possessors of a particular material culture adopted a variety of stone houses and strongholds, presumably depending upon locally available skills.

The assemblage also seems to reinforce the distinctiveness of Vaul ware as an early Iron Age pottery style; no trace of it has yet been found on Iona despite the fact that it was in use in the west perhaps five centuries before the appearance of Everted Rim ware. Yet there is other ancient pottery at Dun Cul Bhuirg, which suggests that Vaul ware was a new style which appeared in the west perhaps around 500 BC but which was not adopted everywhere. In its pure form it is absent from the Balevullin hut site on Tiree, just a few miles from Dun Mor Vaul where the Phase 1 occupations should be contemporary with it. The yellow ring beads confirm that Dun Cul Bhuirg was inhabited in part of the middle Iron Age period, probably at about the same time as Dun Mor Vaul.

Sources: 1. NMRS site no. NM 22 SE 3: 2. E Burley and P J Fowler in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, 1958, 14-15: 3. A C Thomas and J V S Megaw, Ibid., 1957, 10-11: 4. A C Thomas, Ibid., 1959, 10: 5. Ritchie and Lane 1981: 6. RCAHMS 1980, 36-7, no. 133: 7. Topping 1987. Other passing references are listed under [1].

E W MacKie 2007

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