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Hill Of Tuack

Cremation(S) (Period Unassigned), Ring Ditch (Period Unassigned), Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age), Blade (Bronze), Cinerary Urn(S), Food Vessel

Site Name Hill Of Tuack

Classification Cremation(S) (Period Unassigned), Ring Ditch (Period Unassigned), Stone Circle (Neol/bronze Age), Blade (Bronze), Cinerary Urn(S), Food Vessel

Alternative Name(s) Tuach Hill; Gallow Hill; Hill Of Tuach; Tuach Burn; Mid Hill

Canmore ID 18583

Site Number NJ71NE 27

NGR NJ 7957 1544

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Aberdeenshire
  • Parish Kintore
  • Former Region Grampian
  • Former District Gordon
  • Former County Aberdeenshire

Archaeology Notes

NJ71NE 27 7957 1544.

For stone circles at Broomend of Crichie (NJ 7792 1967), Fullerton (NJ 7839 1797), Cairnhall (NJ 7850 1759) and Castle Hill, Kintore (NJ 7939 1634), see NJ71NE 6, NJ71NE 14, NJ71NE 17, NJ71NE 32.00 respectively.

(NJ 7957 1544) Stone Circle (NR) (Remains of)

OS 6" map, (1938)

The circle is 24 feet (7.3m) in diameter, and is surrounded by a trench about 12 feet (3.65m) wide. Six of the stones still remain and, until recently there was a flat stone, supported by smaller stones, at the centre. Excavations have revealed a total of four cremation burials (three of which were covered by inverted urns, two containing small fragments of bronze) at the bases of three of the surrounding stones and a possible burial at the base of each of two other stones.

Around the central stone were found three more cremation burials and a deposit of charcoal and black mould. Each of the burials was in a small pit, each covered by a stone.

A Watt 1864.

Only two stones of the circle remains. One 4 feet 10 inches (1.47m) high, stands to the east of the centre of the circle and the other, which may have been one of the surrounding six stones, lies to the SW. A flat stone at the centre may have been the one referred to above. Other stones lying about may be quarry debris.

F R Coles 1901; C E Dalyrymple 1884.

One of the cinerary urns, a cordoned Food Vessel and two of the bronze fragments were presented to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS) in 1856, and fragments of other urns were presented in 1873. Accession nos. EP 5 and 6.

Proc Soc Antiq Scot 1859; 1875; J Abercromby 1912; NMAS 1892.

This monument is situated on a southern slope near the foot of Tuach Hill, It consists of a circular platform surrounded by a ditch and a slight outer bank on all but the northern segment. The central area now only contains one earth-fast stone and is littered with large and small boulders.

The outer bank has been encroached on by a modern field wall, and by an earlier field bank on the west and east sides. This may account for a break in the south-east.

Surveyed at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 18 March 1964.

(Scheduled as Tuach Hill, stone circle and enclosure 130m SW of Gallow Top). The monument comprises a scoop in the SW facing hillside, overlooking a long burial mound, bounded by an enclosing ditch with an external bank. Within the enclosed area are the remains of a stone circle or setting; only one stone is now upright. The enclosed area measures 7.3m across within the ditch, which is c. 3.6m wide.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 29 August 1996.

(Classification amended to: Stone Circle; Ring-ditch; Cremations; Cinerary Urns; Food Vessel; Bronze Blade). The remains of an enclosure containing a stone setting or circle are situated at the foot of the SW flank of Tuach Hill, overlooking the Tuach Burn some 300m N of the Mid Mill long barrow (NJ71NE 31). The enclosure is oval on plan and measures 11m from E to W by 8m transversely within a ditch up to 5m in breadth and 0.9m in depth. The external bank, which extends around the southern or lower half of the of the enclosure, is best preserved on the W, where it is up to 3.5m in thickness and 0.3m in height. Elsewhere it has been obscured by the construction of an old field bank and a drystone wall.

The only erect stone stands on the E side of the interior. It measures 1.55m from E to W by 1.2m transversely at ground-level and rises to a pointed top at a height of 1.5m. The stump of what may be another standing stone is situated immediately to its W, while a stone with a heavily fractured face lies 3.4m SSW. The latter measures 1.25 in length from E to W by 0.9m in breadth and 0.85m in thickness. Another stone that may have once formed part of the setting now lies on the inner scarp of the ditch on the SW. It measures 1.6m in length.

According to Watt the stone setting once comprised a circle of six stones, but by the time Coles surveyed the site only one remained erect, and it cannot be reconciled with any of those shown on Watt's plan. Coles considered that the other stones scattered on and around the site were likely to be debris from quarry working higher up the hill to the N.

Visited by RCAHMS (JRS), 21 November 1996.

A Watt 1864; F R Coles 1901.

NJ 797 155 A watching brief was maintained in April 2005 during the excavation for a new cable trench to the telecom mast on Tauch Hill. Two small cinerary urns (NJ71NE 27) were found near the summit of the hill in 1864, while an area of rig and furrow lies to the W of the site. A 50m trench, c 1m deep and 800-900mm wide, ran up the southern flank of the hill to the telecom unit. No archaeological features or finds were evident.

Report to be lodged with Aberdeenshire SMR and NMRS.

Sponsor: SSE Power Distribution.


Excavation (March 2011 - April 2011)

NJ 7957 1544 The Hill of Tuach is an isolated granite knoll to the SE of Kintore, bounded on three sides by the Tuach Burn, a minor tributary of the Don. The excavated site has been badly damaged over the last 150 years, but in its original form it seems to have consisted of a ring of six standing stones, enclosed by a broad circular earthwork. The bank was outside the ditch, and the monoliths seem to have been placed along the outer edge of a small circular platform only 10m in diameter. By contrast, the bank was 5m wide and the ditch attained a width of nearly 3m. It was first excavated by Dalrymple in 1855 who found Early Bronze Age cremation burials beside most of the monoliths.

The site is unusual for two reasons. Its earthwork has most of the attributes of a small henge monument and is of a similar size to other examples in N and NE Scotland. At the same time the setting of monoliths has features in common with what are thought to be the last stone circles in Britain. This view is supported by the discovery of Cordoned Urns in the 1855 excavation. What is exceptional is that the Hill of Tuach shares both of these characteristics. It is hard to identify any intact monument which combines these elements.

The monument is located half-way down a SW-facing slope and commands a view across the Tuach Burn towards the flank of the Midmill Neolithic long cairn. Viewed from further downhill, it is not particularly conspicuous. From further up the slope it is easy to look into the interior which resembles a secluded arena.

In the absence of a detailed record of the 19th-century excavation, it seemed important to conduct new fieldwork on the site. It had the following aims:

• to establish the original plan of the prehistoric stone setting, most of which has been destroyed since the 1855 survey

• to establish the nature of the earthwork perimeter and to look for environmental and chronological evidence associated with its construction

• to establish the character of any surviving deposits within the enclosure and to look for additional deposits of cremated bone

• observations of similar enclosures suggest that they often preserve traces of a blocked entrance towards the S. It was important to ask whether the same could have happened in this case.

The new excavation undertaken March–April 2011 was designed to investigate half the interior of the monument and two lengths of the surrounding earthwork. A smaller area on the inner lip of the ditch was also examined for evidence of a blocked entrance. Work inside the enclosure was limited to two areas where it was possible to excavate between the trees that cover the site today.

The earthwork had been built on a much larger scale than had been anticipated. It consisted of a wide external bank, revetted on the inside by a low stone kerb, and a deep ditch. It was constructed in a largely open environment, and there may have been a blocked entrance aligned on the Midmill long cairn, but the evidence is not entirely conclusive. There was a concentration of quartz pebbles on this part of the site.

The interior of the enclosure had been disturbed by Dalrymple, but the positions of several standing stones were clear from the new excavation. As he had claimed, there were six monoliths located at intervals of c4.4m. They seem to have formed a circle c9m in diameter, with one of the stones at the putative entrance to the site. Taken in combination with the natural gradient of the hill, it suggests that the structure was orientated towards the SW.

A series of circular pits was identified towards the centre of the site. Eight were recorded in 2011 and, to judge from an account of the 1855 excavation, at least four more could have existed. Six of the pits were precisely circular with rounded bottoms. One contained a small deposit of cremated bone on its base. Otherwise only tiny quantities of burnt bone were found inside them and they cannot be regarded as cremation pits. Their main characteristic is that they included placed pebbles of quartz or sandstone, which seem to have been selected for the purpose.

Two burials were discovered in 2011. One was in an inverted Collared Urn which was tightly packed in the ground. The other was also in a cylindrical pit and was in an inverted Cordoned Urn, together with what are probably fragments of a bronze razor. One feature that connects both these burials is that red pebbles derived from the local drift had been placed in and around them. By contrast, all the monoliths at Tuach seem to have been grey or white.

The results of the project suggest a number of possibilities, although they are obviously subject to change in course of post-excavation work:

• Radiocarbon dates from the project suggest that the stone circle and the features inside it date from the Early Bronze Age. The outer earthwork, however, has a terminus post quem in the Late Bronze Age. It seems likely that it was built long after the monoliths were erected and the site was used as a cemetery

• There are certain clues to the internal organisation of this site. The cremation burials were found in two distinct zones. Six of those excavated in 1855 were in pits beside the standing stones. A second group of burials occupied the central area

• The earthwork and enclosure at Tuach was much more substantial and significantly later in date than had been expected

• Work elsewhere at Kintore shows that the local landscape changed around 1800–1600 BC. From that time onwards substantial circular houses were being built. It is likely that their histories overlapped with the use of the Hill of Tuach.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: British Academy

Reading University, 2011


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