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Iona, Dun Cul Bhuirg

Cairn (Modern), Fort (Iron Age), Roundhouse (Iron Age), Bead(S) (Glass)(Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Iron Age)

Site Name Iona, Dun Cul Bhuirg

Classification Cairn (Modern), Fort (Iron Age), Roundhouse (Iron Age), Bead(S) (Glass)(Iron Age), Unidentified Pottery (Iron Age)

Alternative Name(s) Culbuirg

Canmore ID 21638

Site Number NM22SE 3

NGR NM 2649 2462

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilfinichen And Kilvickeon
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NM22SE 3 2649 2462.

(NM 2649 2462) Fort (NR)

OS 1:10000 map (1976)

Fort, Dun Cul Bhuirg, Iona: This fort is situated close to the W shore of Iona on the summit of Dun Cul Bhuirg (51m OD). Steep slopes and precipitous rock-faces afford the site strong natural protection on all sides except the E, where the ground falls less abruptly over a series of rocky outcrops and grassy terraces.

The summit measures about 45m by 35m, but approximately half of the available space is taken up by bare rock; no defences are visible on the western half of the circuit, but on the S and E there are the remains of a wall, consisting of a thin band of rubble in which several individual stones of the outer face remain in position, together with a short stretch on the S standing to a height of 1m in four rough courses. The entrance was probably somewhere on the NE side, where a rocky path, partly overlooked by the defences, leads to the summit of the hill; this line of approach, however, is now impeded by rubble. A band of displaced wall-debris ('a' on plan) is presumably the result of robbing of the facing-stones of the wall.

Excavations between 1957 and 1959, and again in 1969, discovered extensive occupation debris including sherds of Clettraval ware, and, on the E side of the fort, revealed the foundations of a small circular house with a central stone-built hearth. The pottery indicates that the site was occupied at some time during the first three centuries AD.

There is a small modern cairn on a small platform on the E side of the interior.

RCAHMS 1980, visited 1979


Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS (RD) 9 June 1972.

Site recorded by AOC (Scotland) Ltd during an archaeological survey of the lands controlled by the National Trust for Scotland on Iona. This survey was conducted in late May and early April of 1996. The full report of this survey has been deposited with both the local SMR and the NMRS.

NM 2651 2463 Fort

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland

T Rees 1996

The monument comprises a prehistoric hillfort which is situated on a rocky crag 770m NW of Culbuirg Farm, on the west side of the island of Iona.

The fort is defined by a low drystone rubble wall running around the edge of an uneven terrace on the N, E and S flanks of the summit, enclosing an area approximately 35m by 40m. Excavations in the late 1950s and in 1969 found extensive occupation debris, including sherds of distinctive mid-Iron Age pottery, which indicate that the site was occupied in the early centuries AD. On the E side of the terrace a small circular house with a central hearth was discovered.

On the highest point of the crag is a brass plate marking an Admiralty hydrographic triangulation station.

Information from Historic Scotland, scheduling document dated 5 August 1998.


Aerial Photography (April 1969)

Oblique aerial photographs of sites and monuments on Iona, Argyll, photographed by John Dewar in 1969.

Field Visit (June 1979)

Fort, Dùn Cùl Bhuirg, Iona

This fort stands on a precipitous rocky outcrop on the W coast of Iona, overlooking the N end of Camas Cùil ant-Saimh ('The Bay at the Back of the Ocean') and commanding extensive views all round. The summit area, which measures some 45 m by 35 m, was defended by a stone wall on all sides except the W and NW, where the steep rock faces render additional protection unnecessary. The wall is best preserved on the s, where several outer facing-stones survive in situ, including one stretch measuring about 3m in length and standing to a height of 1 m in four irregular courses. Along the E side the line of the wall is partially hidden beneath a band of displaced core-material (a on the plan), which was discarded when both faces were robbed. The entrance was probably on the NE, where access to the summit is easiest, but at this point there is a confused mass of rubble, and no traces of an entrance-passage can be seen.

During excavations within the interior undertaken between 1957 and 1959, and again in 1968, as part of the programme of work on Iona carried out under the auspices of the Russell Trust, four areas were examined (1). Site 1, a small flat terrace between two rock outcrops, contained the remains of a hearth and was perhaps covered by a simple lean-to structure (2). Site 2 was a section cut through the band of rubble comprising the displaced core of the wall; a considerable quantity of pottery, two glass beads and midden material were recovered, and their significance is discussed below. Site 3 revealed the remains of a small stone-walled house, measuring internally some 4·5 m by 4.3 m, with a well-built hearth measuring 1.0 m by 0.75 m. A large assemblage of pottery and a glass bead were found. Site 4, a small platform in the lee of a low cliff, was also examined, but yielded no structural remains.

The pottery includes sherds with short, sharply everted rims and channelled-arch decoration that can be paralleled at Clettraval, North Uist, A' Cheardach Mhór, South Uist, and Dùn Mór, Vaul, Tiree (3). A sherd with a neck band cordon can also be compared to vessels at the latter sites (4). Dùn Cùl Bhuirg is one of the most southerly sites to produce such decorated Hebridean wares. Two yellow glass beads belong to a class that is more widely distributed (5). In general a date between the first century BC and the third century AD may be suggested for both the pottery and the beads. Although the presence of midden material, including sherd sand animal bones, within what was the rubble core of the wall is open to several interpretations, it is perhaps most likely that it represents a deliberate addition at the time of construction, in a manner similar to that revealed within the outer wall at Dùn Mór, Vaul (6). The small finds discovered on the floor-level of the house on the E side of the fort are identical in style to those found within the displaced wall debris, and it is likely therefore that this is a contemporary Iron Age structure.

A small modern cairn is situated on a platform on the E side of the interior.

RCAHMS 1982, visited June 1979

1. DES (1957), 10-11; (1958), 14-15; (1959), 10. The Commissioners are indebted to Professor A C Thomas, Dr P J Fowler and Dr R Reece for their assistance in making the results of the excavations available for study. For a more detailed account see Ritchie, J N G and Lane, A M, 'Dun Cul Bhuirg, Iona, Argyll', in PSAS, 110 (1978-80), 209-29.

2. DES (1958), 15.

3. PPS, 14 (1948), 59, fig. 5, pl. viii; PSAS, 93 (1959-60), 145,fig. 6; MacKie, E W, Dun Mor Vaul, an Iron Age Broch on Tiree (1974), 117, fig. 12, no.97; 119, fig.14, no.179.

4. PSAS, 93 (1959-60), 144, fig. 5; Mackie, op. cit., 123, fig. 18, nos. 363 and 379.

5. Guido, M, The Glass Beads of the Prehistoric and Roman Periods in Britain and Ireland (1978), 73-6.

6. MacKie, op. cit., 53.

Field Visit (April 1996 - May 1996)

Site recorded by AOC (Scotland) Ltd during an archaeological survey of the lands controlled by the National Trust for Scotland on Iona. This survey was conducted in late May and early April of 1996. The full report of this survey has been deposited with both the local SMR and the NMRS.

NM 2651 2463 Fort

Sponsor: National Trust for Scotland

T Rees 1996

Field Visit (April 1996 - May 1996)

On the summit of Dun Cul Bhuirg stands a fort which covers an area 45.0m by 35.0 m. The walls are now visible only as stoney banks around the eastern and southern edges of the summit. A circular structure is visible at the eastern limit. This structure is approximately 5.0m in diameter although it is hard to identify as the result of extensive damage caused by archaeological excavations.

The summit of Dun Cul Bhuirg has an Admiralty hydrographic triangulation point, which consists of a circular brass plaque.

Excavations on both the ramparts and the structure suggested that the site had been constructed and occupied at some point between 100BC and 300AD.

(ION96 023)

Information from NTS (SCS) January 2016

Publication Account (2007)



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

Note (6 November 2014 - 23 May 2016)

A small fortification occupies the summit of Dun Cul Bhuirg close to the NW coast of Iona. While the greater part of the summit is bare rock, falling away precipitously around the W half, elsewhere the remains of a wall are visible forming an enclosure measuring about 45m from E to W by 35m transversely (0.12ha). Excavations 1957-59 uncovered the remains of a small, stone-founded hut measuring about 4.5m by 4.3m internally, with a well-built central hearth. Much of the pottery from this hut has since been lost, but analysis of the assemblage and three glass beads from here and elsewhere within the fort suggests a period of occupation between the 1st century BC and the 3rd century AD (Ritchie and Land 1980).

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 23 May 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC2494


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