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Earn's Heugh

Fort(S) (Iron Age), Settlement (Iron Age)

Site Name Earn's Heugh

Classification Fort(S) (Iron Age), Settlement (Iron Age)

Alternative Name(s) Earn's Heugh Forts; Tun Law

Canmore ID 59800

Site Number NT86NE 8

NGR NT 89210 69130

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Scottish Borders, The
  • Parish Coldingham
  • Former Region Borders
  • Former District Berwickshire
  • Former County Berwickshire

Archaeology Notes

NT86NE 8 89210 69130 to 891 691.

(NT 8921 6913) Forts and Settlement (NR)

OS 1:10,000 map, (1976).

Forts and Settlement: Two now D-shaped but once probably oval or circular enclosures and a later settlement. (See RCAHMS 1915 plan, fig. 42).

The eastern enclosure, believed by Feachem to be the earlier but by Childe to be the later of the two enclosures, is described by Feachem as measuring 220ft by 120ft within the remains of a single rampart with an external ditch. He apparently ignores the two other ramparts, which were sectioned by Childe in 1931. Childe mentions indications of a rock-cut ditch outside the outer bank, E of a gap (possibly a gateway) at NT 8924 6907.

The larger enclosure, on the W, must originally have measured about 260ft in diameter within two ramparts with a medial ditch, with an entrance in the W.

A later settlement, about 180ft in diameter within a single rampart, was inserted centrally to this latter fort. Several circular stone house foundatione set against the inner face of the settlement rampart yielded, on excavation in 1931, relics dated between AD 150 and 400. 'The W fort and the settlement repeat . . . the pattern of the settlement with stone-built houses developing at a pre-Roman Iron Age site after this had become disused.'

RCAHMS 1915, visited 1908; V G Childe 1932; R W Feachem 1963.

The ramparts, mainly of stone, are well-defined and strongly constructed. In the western complex the inner, middle and outer ramparts are 1.4m, 1.8m and 1.4m high respectively. In the eastern fort they are 1.6m, 0.6m and 1.0m high respectively. The hut circles in the settlement show as shallow depressions.

To the SE of the eastern fort there is a low, circular, earth-banked enclosure.

Visited by OS (JLD) 4 November 1954.

Generally as described above. There is the foundation of a sub-rectangular building attached to the enclosing earth bank of the small enclosure (NT 8930 6905).

Visited by OS (WDJ) 3 March 1966.

Among the finds from Childe's excavation which are now in the NMAS (Accession Nos: GP 347-58) is a 2nd century Roman enamelled 'head-stud' brooch, from the W fort.

J Curle 1932; A S Robertson 1970.

This monument, which occupies the summit of Tun Law, is interpreted as follows by the Society of Antiquaries surveyors: The interior of the NW fort is occupied by a later settlement measuring about 55m by 30m within its bank; this in turn is overlaid by a settlement of nine stone- walled houses (from which the material dating from the mid 2nd to 4th centuries AD noted above was recovered).

The SE fort measures about 65m by 35m internally; on the NW its outer rampart is probably overlain by a reconstructed section of the outer rampart of the NW fort. Subsequently the outer rampart of the SE fort was rebuilt so as to butt on to the defences of the NW fort and a third rampart was then added to the SE fort.

Immediately to the SE there are the remains of at least two rectangular buildings forming two sides of an enclosure which is bounded on the E by a low bank and on the N by sea-cliffs.

RCAHMS 1980.


Excavation (July 1931)

Excavated in 1931.

V G Childe 1932

Publication Account (1985)

The summit of Tun Law ends in a spectacular, precipitous cliff 150m above the sea. To say that the twin settlements are semi-oval, semi-circular or D-shaped is to ignore the likelihood of at least half of each structure lost through erosion-an indicator of the increasing attack of the sea over 2000 years and more.

The interior of the eastern enclosure, roughly 70m by 35m, is encircled by the remains of a single rampart with external ditch and an entrance at the west side. A further pair of ramparts was subsequently added, overridden in turn by a similar pair added to the western enclosure. This larger enclosure follows much the same pattern-a 55m diameter settlement perhaps, within a single wall (though apparently without a ditch), extended by the two further ramparts to a diameter of at least 80m.

Unlike the smaller settlement which provides no evidence of house sites, here traces have been found of at least nine circular stone foundations, all lying against the inner face of the innermost wall. Such stone-built houses often accompany Roman influence in south-east Scotland, and the evidence of excavated objects dated between 150 and 400 AD, suggests that Earn's Heugh, even if abandoned during the Roman period, was certainly occupied again until at least the late 4th century AD.

Coldingham Moor, commanding the coastal route north and south, has a high concentration of fortified settlements-at least ten within a 1.5km radius; there are other high concentrations along Bunkle Edge, commanding a fine prospect across the Merse and into Northumberland, and along the hills either side of Lauderdale, the even more important artery north.

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

Note (11 February 2016 - 21 October 2016)

This fort is the south-eastern of a pair of forts (see Atlas No.4094) set on a promontory in the shallow saddle between the two summits of Tun Law, which along its NE flank falls away virtually sheer to the sea about 150m below. In the final stages of a complex sequence the defences here were linked to the neighbouring fort on the NW, but as originally built the two forts were discrete entities, the defences of the south-eastern drawn in an arc across the S and W approaches. Like its neighbour, the defences of the initial fort here probably comprised twin ramparts with a medial ditch, which cut off the relatively shallow summit of the promontory, an area measuring about 65m from ESE to WNW by 35m transversely (0.22ha). The interior is featureless and the entrance is on the W. At some stage, presumably when the defences of the SE fort were derelict, the counterscarp rampart outside the entrance was demolished and the outer rampart of the NW fort was reconstructed in a spur that adopts the line of the counterscarp adjacent to cliff-edge. Subsequently the defences of the SE fort seem to have been refurbished and the demolished counterscarp rampart was rebuilt on a new line that butts onto the reconstructed spur rampart of the NW fort; Gordon Childe, who cut a section across the defences of this fort in 1931, also explored this junction, but without conclusively demonstrating the probable stratigraphic relationship (1932, 178-9). A further modification of the defences saw the addition of a third rampart with an external ditch on an eccentric line and apparently butting onto the rebuilt counterscarp rampart outside the original entrance. As first constructed, this entrance was relatively simple, though the terminals of the rampart may have been staggered slightly to either side of the gap, but with the successive modifications of the defences, the gaps in the outer ramparts were staggered eastwards to create a long oblique approach to the inner entrance exposing the visitor's right side. Finds from the excavations were limited to a few sherds of coarse pottery and animal bones (Childe 1932).

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 21 October 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC4095

Note (11 February 2016 - 21 October 2016)

This fort is the north-western of a pair of forts (see Atlas No.4095) set spectacularly on the summit of Tun Law, which along its NE flank falls away virtually sheer to the sea about 150m below. In the final stages of a complex sequence the defences here were linked to the neighbouring fort on the SE, but as originally built the two forts were discrete entities, the north-western forming a semicircular enclosure backing onto the cliff-edge along its NE flank. Elsewhere the defences comprised the outer pair of ramparts with a medial ditch, which enclosed an area currently measuring about 80m from ESE to WNW along the chord by 48m transversely (0.3ha), though there may have been some reduction in its extent along the seaward side. The innermost enclosure, appears to have been inserted into the interior and lies slightly eccentric to the earlier defences. It measures about 60m along the cliff-edge by a maximum of 39m transversely (0.18ha) within a wall reduced to a stony bank, and within the interior there are the footings of ten stone-founded round-houses, the majority of which appear to have been built against the lea of the wall on the S and W, and may well post date it. An entrance on the W pierces both the ramparts of the fort and the wall of the inner settlement enclosure, but there was originally another entrance into the fort on the ESE, where the inner rampart at least was provided with overlapping terminals that exposed the visitor's left side. The presence of a minor entrance into the ESE end of the inner enclosure close to the cliff-edge suggests that this outer entrance probably remained open when the settlement was constructed within the interior, but the outer rampart of the fort was subsequently reconstructed to block the outer gap, and drawn on a wider arc to almost certainly overlie the outer rampart of the SE fort, though the re-alignment of the outer defences of the SE fort have obscured this probable relationship (see Atlas No.4095). This reconstruction of the outer entrance implies that the innermost enclosure was probably also a fortification, though this may have been long defunct before the construction of the stone-founded round-houses within its interior. In 1931 Gordon Childe excavated two of the round-houses, recovering coarse pottery (including two small vessels), a piece of bronze wire, an enamelled brooch of 1st/2nd century AD date, a spindle whorl, a whetstone, a fragment of rotary quern and a small socket stone, and sectioned the defences at two points.

Information from An Atlas of Hillforts of Great Britain and Ireland – 21 October 2016. Atlas of Hillforts SC4094

Sbc Note

Visibility: This is an upstanding earthwork or monument.

Information from Scottish Borders Council


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