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Barra Hill

Fort (Iron Age), Scraper (Tool) (Flint)

Site Name Barra Hill

Classification Fort (Iron Age), Scraper (Tool) (Flint)

Alternative Name(s) Hill Of Barra; Comyn's Camp; Barra Hillfort

Canmore ID 19668

Site Number NJ82NW 4

NGR NJ 8025 2570

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/19668

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Digital Images

Administrative Areas

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

Archaeology Notes

NJ82NW 4.00 8025 2570

NJ82NW 4.01 NJ 802 257 Pottery; Flint

For rig-and-furrow cultivation within and around the fort, see NJ82NW 119.

For finds in and around this fort see:

NJ82NW 5 Stone Macehead

NJ82NW 6 Carved Stone Ball

NJ82NW 7 Whorls

NJ82NW 8 Stone Ball

NJ82NW 9 Stone Axe

NJ82NW 10 Flint Arrowheads

NJ82NW 11 Flanged Bronze Axe

NJ82NW 22 Leaf-shaped Flint Arrowhead

NJ82NW 24 Stone Axe

NJ82NW 26 Stone Ball

NJ82NW 27 Stone Axes

NJ82NW 28 Carved Stone Ball

NJ82NW 59 Flints; Amber Fragment

NJ82NW 107 Wallace's Putting Stone

NJ82NW 108 Stone object; pottery

(NJ 8025 2570) Fort (NR)

OS 6" map, (1959)

The Barra Hill fort bears certain resemblances to the Barmekin of Echt (NJ70NW 1). The innermost line of defence is a ruined wall which encloses an area measuring 400ft in length by 320ft in width (350ft E to W by 320ft N to S [Meldrum 1959]), with a single entrance in the E. Two ramparts and ditches lying outside this are equipped with three entrances, two of which are still flanked with the remains of walls. The innermost wall is almost certainly a later structure than these outer two.

The interior has long been under the plough, the effects of which have also caused some damage to the N sector of the defences. It is featureless except for a huge erratic boulder which must have been placed on the hill in glacial times (Feachem 1963) (locally known as Wallace's Putting Stone).

Traditionally the encampment of the Comyns at the Battle of Old Meldrum (Meldrum 1959) (NJ72NE 4).

E Meldrum 1959; R Feachem 1963.

A fort generally as described by Feachem. The three entrances in the outer ramparts are on the N, E and W, although the one on the N may be a later mutilation. The medial rampart incorporates on the NW side, a stretch of steep rock outcrop, at the N end of which is a gap where the rampart merges with the third rampart. This gap appears to have been covered by a short stretch of additional rampart on the outside of the defences. The interior of the fort and the surrounding slopes are covered with rig and furrow.

Revised at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (NKB) 3 March 1969.

(Location cited as NJ 8025 2570 and name as Barra Hillfort: nominated as Site of Regional Importance). This incomplete fort is situated on the summit of its hill at an altitude of 185m OD.

[Air photographic imagery listed].

NMRS, MS/712/35.

NJ 8031 2573 A flint end-scraper was also exposed by rabbit burrowing in the rampart of Barra hillfort.

W J Howard 2000.

This fort, which crowns the summit of the Hill of Barra, displays two periods of construction in its defences. In the later, now forming the innermost circuit, they comprise a rampart with an external ditch, and there are also traces of a counterscarp bank on the E. The rampart has evidently been faced in stone, though most of the visible facing-stones along its line belong to a later wall shown on top of the rampart on the 1st edition of the OS 25-inch map (Aberdeenshire, 1867, sheet xlvi.9). The interior measures 122m by 95m and there were at least two entrances, one on the E and the other on the W. There is also a narrow gap in the rampart on the N, but this may be a more recent break. On the E there is a clearly defined causeway across the line of the ditch and the entrance passage through the rampart is flanked with large boulders. The latter is also a feature of the entrance on the W, but here the rampart has been almost entirely robbed away, and the rock-cut road terrace is blocked by the later wall shown on the OS map.

The earlier defences lie to the exterior of the later fort and for the most part comprise two ramparts with external quarry ditches, but there are also traces of additional outer lines on the NW. The ramparts are most impressive on the NE, falling away into the steep-sided ditches, but around the W they are largely reduced to terraces, and on the W, where the outer swings out to accommodate a stretch of sheer rock outcrop, the inner has been entirely removed. There are entrances on the W, N, E and S, the last of which is blocked by the later defences, thus demonstrating the sequence of construction. The entrance on the E is the best defined, the ramparts returning around the terminals of the ditches. The returns on the N side of this entrance are revetted with boulders, and the remains of similar stone linings can also be seen in the S and N entrances.

The interior of the fort and the surrounding hillside are covered with rig-and-furrow cultivation (NJ82NW 119).

Visited by RCAHMS (ARG, SPH), 26 August 1995.

Scheduled as 'Hill of Barra... the remains of a multi-vallate hillfort on the summit...

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 5 March 2009.

Activities

Field Visit (22 May 1957)

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.

Publication Account (1986)

The fort on this 193m OD grassy hill appears to be of two phases represented by a pair of ramparts and ditches surrounding a (?later) stone-walled enclosure. The defences are best preserved in the north and north-east, where the ramparts are a maximum of 2m high. The outer defences reduce to one line on the craggy west side; there is an additional, outer bank and ditch on the north-west The single entrance is at the east, where a 4m wide passage, edged with stones, runs through all three lines of defence. (The gap on the north is recent)

The presence of a wood on the hill until the 19th century has ensured the survival of the medieval rig and furrow cultivation on the summit and nrthern slopes. There is a tradition that John Comyn, earl of Buchan, camped here before his defeat at the hands of Bruce in the battle of Barra in 1307.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: Grampian’, (1986).

Archaeological Evaluation (18 July 2009 - 31 July 2009)

NJ 584 254 and NJ 8025 2570 The RCAHMS volume on Strathdon identified six types of hillforts based on size and defensive systems. However none of the sites have been dated. The Hillforts of Strathdon Project aims to recover dating evidence from one of each of the six classes of hillfort.

Two sites were examined during the third and final season of fieldwork, 18–31 July 2009. Five trenches were dug at Hill of Barra and two trenches were opened at Hill of Newleslie. All the features identified in the trenches were excavated and recorded. The excavations at Hill of Newleslie indicated that there was no significant depth of deposits, that the site had been heavily affected by roots (probably gorse) and that their subsequent burning had spread modern root charcoal through the soil. Conversely, the work at Hill of Barra revealed significant quantities of charcoal and artefacts including possible Grooved Ware. An internal rock cut ring-groove feature was also identified.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: The CBA

Murray Cook, Rob Engl, Lindsay Dunbar, Hana Kdolska and Stefan Sagrott – Oxford Archaeology North

Note (22 April 2015 - 31 August 2016)

The multivallate fort situated on the summit of Barra Hill exhibits three phases of construction, though the last phase appears to be no more than the creation of an agricultural enclosure to enclose the rigs visible in the interior with a stone-faced dyke extending round the rim of the inner rampart and blocking the entrance on the W. This sequence on the W shows that the inner rampart had already been heavily robbed in this sector, to the extent that only the dyke can be traced northwards along the crest of the outcrops on the W flank of the summit. Nevertheless, the innermost rampart and its accompanying external ditch represent the second phase of construction, pierced by opposed entrances on the E and W, and with what may be a more recent break on the N, but blocking the entrance through the outer ramparts on the S. Roughly oval, this inner enclosure measures 122m from E to W by a maximum of 95m transversely (0.92ha) within its rampart. The two outer ramparts and their ditches enclose an area measuring about 155m from E to W by 125m transversely (1.54ha), but while they present steep well-formed profiles on the SE and NE quarters, elsewhere they are largely reduced to two concentric terraces, and there is no trace of the inner at all below the outcrops on the W; lengths of a counterscarp rampart are visible on the lip of the outer ditch on the S and N. There were probably entrance at all four cardinal points though the remains of those on the N and W have been heavily distorted by later activity. Of the other two, the eastern is the better preserved, with traces of the ramparts returning around the terminals of the ditches to form a stone-faced entrance way over 15m long, and there are hints of a similar arrangement on the S also. Excavations across the defences by Murray Cook recovered charcoal samples from the primary fills of two ditches, the inner either accompanying the innermost rampart or a quarry to the rear of the middle rampart, and the outer between the middle and outermost ramparts; the former dates to 560-360 BC and the latter AD 380-580. At face value the outer defences of the multivallate fort visible in the surviving earthworks were had probably been constructed at or by the earlier date, but that there was also a much later phase of refurbishment in the early medieval period (Cook 2011; 2012).

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 31 August 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2981

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