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Durn Hill

Fort (Iron Age)

Site Name Durn Hill

Classification Fort (Iron Age)

Alternative Name(s) Hill Of Durn

Canmore ID 17973

Site Number NJ56SE 4

NGR NJ 5710 6383

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Fordyce
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Banff And Buchan
  • Former County Banffshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ56SE 4 5710 6383

See also NJ56SE 6.

(NJ 5710 6383) Camp (NR)

OS 6" map, Banffshire, 2nd ed., (1904)

Three lines of defence enclose a flat space on top of the Hill of Durn. The lowest line is a trench with outer upcast mound. Above this is a stone wall which is accompanied by a trench only for about 160 yards on the SW, where it is mainly filled up, and appears to have been formed outside the wall after it was built. An entrance is in this section, and another appears to have been on the NW side where there is a similar trench though only about 30 yards long. The third line of defence is clearly traceable all the way round although of no great depth.

Anon 1884.

The fort on Durn Hill appears to have been uncompleted. The inner line is a shallow marker trench c.0.5m wide by 0.1m deep which can be traced throughout its entire circuit. The outer line is a similar trench which can also be traced without much difficulty throughout its circuit.

In the SW angle of this trench is an entrance c.4.0m wide. The medial line of defence, obviously unfinished, consists of a ditch with upcast bank on its outer lip, covering the SW angle for a distance of c.140m. The ditch is c.3.0m wide by 0.8m deep, and the bank is c.4.0m broad by 0.6m high. In the centre of this stretch is a causeway c.4.5m wide. The remainder of this line can be traced round the summit of the hill as a slight scarp except on the NW segment where only a slight discolouration of the heather marks its course. A break in the SW angle of the inner trench can be faintly discerned, and is probably the entrance. Within the SW angle of the fort, where the medial rampart has been constructed, are the vague footings of two similar circular structures. The more southerly is contiguous with the ditch of the medial rampart and is 8.5m in diameter and 0.1m high; the other is 5.4m in diameter and 0.1m high - possibly hut circles.

Revised at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (WDJ) 20 September 1961.

An unfinished tri-vallate fort as planned by RCAHM and described by Johnston (1961).

(Undated) information in NMRS.

A striking example of an unfinished hill-fort exhibiting two kinds of markers occurs on Durn Hill, Banffshire, a gently rounded hill of white quartzite known as Durn Hill marble clothed with sparse heather and shallow peat. The outermost and the innermost of three lines of markers are marker ditches with slight traces of spoil on their outer lips. The medial line, however, is a marker bank formed from gathered stones. Construction work, in which there is evidence of gangs, has started only on the medial line.

The occurrence here of the two marking techniques probably signifies the former existence of two separate constructional projects. First, the scheme which reached only the stage of marking out with ditches, and second the plan represented by the marker bank which is situated between, but not constantly equidistant from, the marker ditches. The latter project was barely begun before being abandoned. In the course of the short stretches of work on the medial line it can be observed that the larger blocks of quartzite were thrown uphill as material from which a rampart would be built, while the moderate amount of small spoil was cast downhill to form a counterscarp bank.

R W Feachem 1971.

Classified as Site of Regional Significance: air photographic imagery listed.

NMRS, MS/712/35.

Air photograph: AAS/00/10/CT.

NMRS, MS/712/100.


Field Visit (29 June 1956)

This site was included within the RCAHMS Marginal Land Survey (1950-1962), an unpublished rescue project. Site descriptions, organised by county, are available to view online - see the searchable PDF in 'Digital Items'. These vary from short notes, to lengthy and full descriptions. Contemporary plane-table surveys and inked drawings, where available, can be viewed online in most cases - see 'Digital Images'. The original typecripts, notebooks and drawings can also be viewed in the RCAHMS search room.

Information from RCAHMS (GFG) 19 July 2013.

Excavation (May 2014)

NJ 5710 6383 As part of the Northern Picts Project surveys and excavations have been undertaken in an area stretching from Aberdeenshire to Easter Ross targeting sites that can help contextualise the character of society in the early medieval period in northern Pictland.

In May 2014 two forts near the site of the Gaulcross Pictish hoard were targeted to provide dating for the nearest fortified sites to the hoard site. The OS in 1961 suggested that the Durn Hillfort may be incomplete. Their survey described an incomplete rampart around the fort entrance and two shallow ‘marker’ ditches encircling the hill top. Feacham (1971) also suggested the fort was unfinished. The 2014 work targeted the ‘marker’ ditches. The trenches quickly established that the ditches are in fact palisade slots encircling the summit of Durn Hill. A slot in the inner line of defence identified charred material within the foundation trench. Charred material was subsequently radiocarbon dated to the Early Iron Age (Beta- 381815 2450 +/- 30 BP; 760–410 cal BC 95.4%). The 2014 work suggests that Durn Hill is an exceptionally well preserved fort in NE Scotland with much of both inner and outer palisades traceable on the surface encircling the hill with the SW area further marked by a short section of rampart and ditch.

Archive: University of Aberdeen

Funder: University of Aberdeen Development Trust in partnership with the Tarbat Discovery Centre

Gordon Noble and Oskar G Sveinbjarnarson – University of Aberdeen

(Source: DES)

Note (17 April 2015 - 19 May 2016)

This large enclosure occupies the summit of Durn Hill, which is a prominent rounded hill above Portsoy. Its perimeter comprises three roughly concentric lines, the inner and outer of which are probably the remains of palisade trenches, while the third lying between them comprises a low scarp for most of its circuit, accompanied over a distance of about 130m on the SW quarter by an external ditch with a counterscarp bank; the ditch, which is in the order of 3m in breadth by 0.9m in depth, is rough and irregular with several undug causeways that may reflect the division of labour between separate work gangs. Apparently the remains of an unfinished rampart, the larger stones lie along the inner lip of the ditch, and a gap at the SW angle is probably an original entrance. The palisade trenches are between 0.6m and 0.9m in breadth and up to 0.3m in depth, the inner broken by gaps on the NE and behind the entrance through the unfinished rampart on the SW. While there are several small gaps in the line of the outer on the E and SE, only a gap on the SW, where the outer line diverges outwards from the others is certainly the remains of an entrance. The only features visible within the interior are two low, stony ring-banks, one immediately to the rear of the northern end of the unfinished rampart and ditch, and the other further into the interior in the SW quadrant.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 19 May 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2958


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