By Freja MacDougall
“The oddest thing is these vitrified forts in Scotland. I just thought, how? After all, lasers were not common in the Stone Age.”
Arthur C. Clarke, Writer & Inventor
For over two-hundred and fifty years, archaeologists studying ancient Scottish ruins have reported a type of construction said to defy explanation. Vitrified forts, like Dun Deardail in Glen Nevis, continue to bewilder even the sharpest mind but this month Nevis Landscape Partnership & Forestry Commission Scotland will attempt to understand this fascinating process and the people who inhabited this impressive Iron Age settlement when we begin our third and final year of excavations.
“Some people think vitrification was a status symbol, some people think a settlement would be set alight and inadvertently vitrified in the process by attackers and some people think it’s a structural thing to do with strengthening the walls of the fort. Bottom line is, we’ll never know! That’s what’s nice about archaeology, different people come away with different interpretations about the history of Dun Deardail.”
Andy Heald, AOC Archaeology
The first and second seasons focused on two main aspects of the fort; the enclosing rampart wall and the internal terraces. Excavation has revealed the rampart wall was far thicker than originally thought and was probably topped with a strong timber palisade or timber superstructure. Slots for horizontal timbers within the wall were also discovered and traces of the charred timbers themselves which, thanks to radiocarbon dating, helped confirm that Dun Deardail has been around since 500BC.
The wonderful thing about archaeology is that for all the forensic investigation and laboratory analysis, we still need to use our imagination to recreate the past. Matthew Ritchie, Forestry Commission Scotland Archaeologist, has linked the burning of Dun Deardail with the Irish tale of the tragic heroine Deirdru. The creative narrative has been included in a new Outdoor Archaeological Learning resource, encouraging teachers to explore the use of archaeological methodology in the classroom and outdoors.