Vitrified Forts – Dun and Dusted

Dun and Dusted

The Ordnance Survey maps of Great Britain frequently designate a remote, desolate hill top as the site of a Tumulus, Cairn or Fort.

Detail from the Ordnance Survey map of Ullswater - 1925

Erecting a Tumulus or Cairn on a remote, desolate hill top is an understandable act of remembrance that honours the final resting place of the dead.

Low Raise - Cumbria

A tumulus (plural tumuli) is a mound of earth and stones raised over a grave or graves.

Tumuli also are known as barrows, burial mounds, or kurgans, and may be found throughout much of the world.

A cairn, which is a mound of stones built for various purposes, might also originally have been a tumulus.

On the other hand;

Erecting a large Fort on a remote, desolate hill top is an incomprehensible act of folly when:

1) There is nothing of value to defend on the remote, desolate hill top.
2) There is no shelter from the elements for the defenders.
3) There is no source of fresh water for the defenders.
4) There are no storage facilities for weapons and provisions.
5) The fort is too large for the defenders to effectively defend.
6) The defenders habitually inhabit the bountiful lowland valleys.

Moel Arthur

Similarly, erecting a very small Fort on a remote, desolate hill top is an incomprehensible act of folly when its too small to offer effective protection.

The vitrified Dun Rahoy, for example, makes a very unlikely fort with its 12 metre internal diameter, central hearth, turfed roof and no water supply.

Dun Rahoy plan

The grass-grown bank that largely conceals the wall is about 7 m thick at the base and stands to a maximum height of 1.5 m internally and 3.2 m externally, while the enclosed area is about 12 m in diameter.

Sections cut through the wall, with the help of ‘dynamite and a sledgehammer’, revealed a mass of vitrified stones in the heart of the core material, and considerable expanses of vitrification have been left exposed round the outer perimeter, the most impressive portion being on the N side.

In the middle of the interior there was a paved area measuring about 4.3 m across, with a rectangular hearth, 1.4 m by 1.1 m, standing in the centre.

Some 3 m E of the hearth, and underneath the floor, there was an irregular chamber measuring 1.5 m in length, from 0.3 to 1.5 m in breadth and 0.6 m in depth, and roofed by heavy paving-stones ; its function is unknown, but it may have served as a cellar or oven.

Childe believed that the whole of the interior had been roofed with turfed carried on rafter springing from the dun wall and having their inner ends supported by posts set round the hearth ; the stumps of two posts, which may have served this purpose, were found near the W edge of the central paved area.

Highland Regional Council – Field Monuments: Dun Rahoy

Dun is a generic term for an ancient or medieval fort.

In some areas duns were built on any suitable crag or hillock, particularly south of the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth.

Overall, it seems the mainstream is happy to call anything a fort even when they know the site wasn’t a fort.

Navan Fort is an ancient monument in County Armagh, Northern Ireland. According to tradition it was one of the great royal sites of pre-Christian Gaelic Ireland and the capital of the Ulaid.

It is a large circular enclosure – marked by a bank and ditch – with a circular mound and the remains of a ring barrow in the middle.

The site is believed to have had a pagan ceremonial purpose.

Emain Macha

If the appearance and characteristics of vitrified forts seem to be substantially related to aggression and destruction, this is far from case with the enclosing works placed around all such enclosed sites.

The greatest contrast is perhaps offered by the series of Irish enclosed ‘royal’ sites of which the most fully explored is Navan in County Armagh, northern Ireland (Waterman and Lynn 1997; Lynn 2003).

Despite likely associations with the early first millennium AD Irish literature, almost everything about Navan, the ancient Emain Macha, suggests its raison d’etre was anything but as a stronghold surrounding a conventional settlement.

Celtic Fortifications in the British Isles – Ian Ralston
Paisajes Fortificados De La Edad Del Hierro
Bibliotheca Archaeologica Hispana 28
Real Academia De La Historia – Casa De Velázquez – Madrid, 2007

Similarly, the mainstream seems happy to call anything they don’t understand a Dun.

Dun in Loch Steinacleit

Dun is a generic term for an ancient or medieval fort.

It is mainly used in the British Isles to describe a kind of hill fort and also a kind of Atlantic roundhouse.

Vitrified forts are the remains of duns that have been set on fire and where stones have been partly melted.

Duns are similar to brochs, but are smaller and probably would not have been capable of supporting a very tall structure.


This level of confusion appears to overwhelm the mainstream whenever they confront architecture associated with the arrival of the Celtic culture in the British Isles.

Duns seem to have arrived with Celtic cultures in about the 7th century BC.

More especially, this level of confusion appears to overwhelm the mainstream whenever they confront architecture that may confirm the Celtic narrative written by Henry O’Brien in 1833.

The duration of Tuath-de-danaan supremacy may have been some six centuries, dating from the first battle of Moytura, in B.C. 1202, to the second battle, in or about B.C. 600,

the colonisation of the island by a highly-cultured race, such as were the ancient people of Iran (Persia).

The name Erin, together with its Greek form Ierne, and its Latin transmutation Hibemia, is shown to be identical with Iran, the ancient name of Persia, which, modified into Irin, was applied by the Greek historians to the ” Sacred Island ” of the West.

Developing this last argument, our author shows that, while Iran (or ” the sacred land “) was a name applied to both Persia and Ireland, the form Irin (Sacred Island) is exclusively applied to Ireland, and that Irc, Eri, Ere, and Erin are but modifications of the latter.

Introduction by W. H. C. – London – 1897
The Round Towers of Ireland – Henry O’Brien – 1898



The Soay sheep is a breed of domestic sheep (Ovis aries) descended from a population of feral sheep on the 250-acre (100 ha) island of Soay in the St. Kilda Archipelago, about 65 kilometres (40 mi) from the Western Isles of Scotland.

It is one of the Northern European short-tailed sheep breeds.

It remains physically similar to the wild ancestors of domestic sheep, the Mediterranean mouflon and the horned urial sheep of Central Asia.

It is much smaller than modern domesticated sheep but hardier, and is extraordinarily agile, tending to take refuge amongst the cliffs when frightened

Soay sheep

This is particularly true when the mainstream confront “early duns” because hill top locations and “vertical” walls could be mistaken for a Zoroastrian Tower of Silence.

Early duns had near vertical ramparts made of stone and timber.

A Tower of Silence is a circular, raised structure used by Zoroastrians for exposure of the dead, particularly to scavenging birds for the purposes of excarnation.

Zoroastrian exposure of the dead is first attested in the mid-5th century BCE Histories of Herodotus, but the use of towers is first documented in the early 9th century.

The doctrinal rationale for exposure is to avoid contact with earth or fire, both of which are considered sacred.

Iranian Tower of Silence

Towers of silence

Ian Ralston, writing about Emain Macha [aka Fort Navan] in Ireland, suggests the banks and ditches might be intended “to stop what was inside the enclosure from leaking out”.

Some hill-forts do indeed have internal ditches, but these are normally relatively modest and informal quarry scoops to obtain material for the surrounding bank, and are altogether slighter than the Navan ditch.

It can be suggested, not altogether fancifully, that the purpose of the ditch and bank at this site are exactly the opposite of those found elsewhere – they are not meant to keep attackers at bay, but rather perhaps to stop what was inside the enclosure from leaking out into the surrounding environment.

Celtic Fortifications in the British Isles – Ian Ralston
Paisajes Fortificados De La Edad Del Hierro
Bibliotheca Archaeologica Hispana 28
Real Academia De La Historia – Casa De Velázquez – Madrid, 2007

Possibly, the same applies to the “early duns”.

Either way:

The story of the Vitrified Hill Forts is far from being Done and Dusted.

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One Response to Vitrified Forts – Dun and Dusted

  1. Circular ditches could also be interpreted as “impact” effects. ;-0

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