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Hownam Rings

Fort (Prehistoric), Palisaded Enclosure (Prehistoric), Settlement (Period Unassigned), Settlement (Prehistoric)

Site Name Hownam Rings

Classification Fort (Prehistoric), Palisaded Enclosure (Prehistoric), Settlement (Period Unassigned), Settlement (Prehistoric)

Canmore ID 57922

Site Number NT71NE 1

NGR NT 79040 19390

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


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

Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Hownam
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Roxburgh
  • Former County Roxburghshire

Archaeology Notes

NT71NE 1.00 79040 19390

NT71NE 1.01 c. 790 193 stone axe

(NT 7904 1939) Hownam Rings (NR)

OS 6" map, (1958).

Palisaded Enclosure, Fort, Settlement, and Homestead, Hownam Rings: This fort (see RCAHMS 1956, plan, fig.187) is situated on the raised northern extremity of an elongated plateau which rises to a height of 1117ft OD. It was excavated in 1948 by Mrs C M Piggott; this showed that the site, which is naturally protected on three sides by the fall of the ground but is easily accessible from the SSE, was occupied during at least four successive phases. Traces of the last three phases can readily be distinguished on the ground, but those of the first phase (a palisaded structure) have been obliterated by later works.

Phase 1: The earliest fortification at the site was a palisade of wooden posts. The excavations did not reveal whether this was a curved line drawn across the SSE approach to the site or whether it formed a complete enclosure; the latter is more probable. There were signs that an original palisade had been soon replaced by a similar one lying partly on the line of the first and partly close to it. No dwellings associated with this phase were found, and it could not be dated, but it was assumed to have been constructed during the 2nd or 1st century BC. Phase 2: Subsequently a stone wall, some 10ft to 12ft wide at the base, was built round the hill top, enclosing an area measuring about 250ft from N to S by about 300ft transversely. It was made up of a core of heavy rubble faced within and without by large blocks. No dwellings could be definitely associated with this wall, and it was impossible to find out anything about the precise date of its construction; but at the time of its destruction, when its entrance (in the SE) was blocked during the construction of the Phase 3 defences, the lower stone of a quern of the late 1st century AD was used in the filling.

Phase 3: The defences were now remodelled in depth. The innermost of the new multiple defences was a rampart, which now stands about 4 ft in height and is spread to a width of about 25ft. It was composed partly

of material from the dismantled wall of Phase 2 and partly of earth from an external ditch. The entrance is in the S.

The second rampart also stands to a height of about 4ft and is spread to a width of about 25ft; it was built of earth and loose rocks obtained partly from a shallow external ditch and partly by scraping together surface rubble. The entrance is in line with that of the inner rampart. The third and fourth ramparts of this phase were constructed entirely by scraping up surface rubble. They are now fragmentary and each is spread to a width of up to 30ft.

Phase 4: Evidence was found during the excavation that the Phase 3 ramparts had scarcely been completed before they were allowed to decay. The occupation which followed is represented by numerous hut circles and banks forming a settlement which lies not only within the fort but also upon and outside the defaced ramparts. One hut circle (area 3 on plan) was excavated. It was found to be roughly circular, about 20ft in diameter; its stone walls were about 5ft in width and the uneven floor was partly paved. Native pottery and some fragments of Roman ware of the late 3rd century AD were among the small finds.

Several small hollows were noted here and there within the fort; one of these, on excavation, proved to be a storage pit with a paved floor, 3ft deep. This presumably belongs to Phase 4.

A homestead, consisting of a subrectangular enclosure measuring about 110ft by 85ft along the axes, was situated on the E of the fort. The hut circle within it overlay the filled ditch of Phase 3; it was almost circular, about 24ft in diameter. Stone robbing had almost obliterated the structure of the hut, and the few small finds provided insufficient evidence for dating the structure more closely than within, or very shortly after, the latter part of the Roman period.

A group VI, neolithic stone axe was among the artifacts found during the excavations (which are now in the NMAS).

RCAHMS 1956, visited 1950; C M Piggott 1950; A S Robertson 1970.

Generally as described and planned by the RCAHMS, although no mention

is made of an outwork cutting across the ridge about 40.0m to the E, undoubtedly constructed as an added defence. It consists of an inner bank, about 0.7m high with an outer ditch 2.0m maximum depth.

RCAHMS plan revised.

Outworks revised at 1/2500.

Visited by OS (RD) 27 June 1968.

No change to previous reports.

Surveyed at 1:10,000.

Visited by OS(JRL) 24 October 1979.

Visible on OS vertical air photographs (OS 68/027/128-9).

Information from RCAHMS (RJCM) March 1990.


Publication Account (1985)

Over 300m high, Hownam Rings command the ridge over which a track known as 'The Street' passes from Hownam, along the high plateau and across the Border to Upper Coquet Dale. The site is naturally protected on three sides, but is easily accessible along this ridge.

Excavation has identified at least four phases of occupation, the last dating from the late 3rd century AD and comprising an undefended settlement of circular stone-built houses and a roughly rectangular enclosure containing a single stone-walled house. This settlement lies both within and upon the abandoned ramparts of the previous phase.

Whilst it is uncertain when the triple ramparts were abandoned, they had been built perhaps in response to such new weapons as slings or chariots. They represent a major remodelling of an earlier 3.6m thick stone wall, faced either side with stone blocks and infilled with rubble. Within the entrance to this single wall, blocked up when replaced, a quem was found,dated to the late 1st century AD.

The first phase, no longer identifiable on the ground, was a simple palisaded enclosure which had been reconstructed very soon after completion on almost the same line. Originally thought to date to the 1st or 2nd century BC, radiocarbon tests now suggest these first phases to be 6th or 7th century BC-giving a total occupation span of some 700-800 years.

'The Shearers' (NT 790192-791192), a line of 28 stones, cross the plateau some 82m south-east of the fort. Eleven of them are exposed at turf-level. Said by some to be standing stones, they are more likely the 'grounders' of an ancient field-dyke probably erected during the occupation of the fort. Such field dykes, in association with late-Roman/early-Anglian homesteads, survive at Crock Cleuch, about 5km west-south-west (NT 833176).

Information from 'Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Lothian and Borders', (1985).

Note (7 September 2015 - 19 October 2016)

The fort known as Hownam Rings, situated on the local summit of the NW spur of Windy Law, was the scene of excavations by Mrs C M Piggott in 1948 that played a major role in the evolution of hillfort studies in Scotland in the 1950s and 60s, giving rise to the much quoted Hownam sequence in which palisaded enclosures were successively replaced by univallate and multivallate defences, before being superseded by Roman Iron Age settlements built across derelict ramparts. The defences of Hownam Rings are best preserved on the W flank, comprising no fewer than three ramparts with shallow external ditches or quarried terraces, the outer with a counterscarp bank, but elsewhere they are evidently overlain by the remains of a later settlement dating from the Roman Iron Age or late Iron Age; the latter is made up of a series of stone founded round-houses disposed around scooped yards and, on the E, a rectilinear enclosure. On plan, at least, the greater part of this settlement lies within a walled enclosure, which gives every appearance of also overlying the defences, but was itself superseded by the rectilinear enclosure on the E. While the latter relationship is secure enough, the sequence identified in the excavations placed the walled enclosure prior to the multivallate defences, enclosing a roughly oval area measuring 90m from E to W by 75m transversely (0.5ha). While not disputing the detailed observations made in individual trenches, this sequence cannot be correct and with hindsight diverse structural components from different periods have probably been conflated to create the circuit of the supposed univallate phase. Likewise, the relationship of the two palisade trenches that are supposed to form the earliest phases of the sequence here is far from clear, Supposedly they are overlain by the ramparts of the multivallate phase, but in practice they were found only in an area where the ramparts had been ploughed down by the Roman Iron Age and their relationships to these defences is by no means secure. While these stratigraphic relationships cannot be resolved without further excavation, there is no doubting the presence of an oval multivallate fort at Hownam Rings, probably measuring internally about 90m from E to W, but no more than 60m transversely (0.45ha); there was an entrance on the SSW, probably forming part of an entrance way approaching obliquely to expose the visitor's left side. Finds from the excavations include a range of coarse stone tools and coarse pottery and an iron knife, while fragments of Roman pottery show that the late Iron Age settlement was certainly occupied into the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 19 October 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC3401

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding earthwork or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


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