Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC2961: Mither Tap of Bennachie  

(Mither Tap o' Bennachie)

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HER:  Aberdeenshire Historic Environment Record NJ62SE0001

NMR:  NJ 62 SE 1 (85507)

SM:  2114

NGR:  NJ 6825 2240

X:  368250  Y:  822400  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

The dominant landmark in the centre of Aberdeenshire, The Mither Tap o' Bennachie, is crowned by a spectacular fortification with massive walls. The summit of the hill is an inhospitable boss of bare rock which was probably once enclosed by a wall, though the only trace of it remaining is a line of outer facing-stones on a ledge above a scree of rubble on the SE, and another scree below the crag on the NE. Below this wall on the S and E there has been a second wall, though again this is largely reduced to a scree dropping almost to the foot of the slope, while encircling the foot of the boss is a massive wall some 8m in thickness, which apparently rose internally in at least two built steps from a kerbed plinth that can be detected at its foot to the N of the entrance on the ENE. Where best preserved, the lower and upper steps of the inner face are nine and five course high respectively, presumably culminating in a parapet at least one tier above this level, and long runs of the outer face can also be traced at several places in the rubble. The sheer scale of this wall suggests that it has been at some stage the principal line of defence, swinging round the NE and SE flanks of the boss from its vertical face on the N to the terminal of the spine of outcrop dropping down from the boss on the SSW; on the W the wall likewise extends from the cliff-face to the terminal of this spine, and though it must once have spanned the outcrops to complete the southern sector of the circuit, no trace of any rubble now survives here. This outer defence evidently replaced an earlier wall lying immediately inside its line, on the S forming a terrace faced with large blocks to a height of 1.2m in height and possibly retaining the remains of an earlier entrance on the SSE. The precise course of this earlier circuit is uncertain, for while it may have cut back W across the spine of rocks, there are also traces of an earlier wall behind the S end of the bank of rubble forming the W sector of the enclosure; it too has traces of an entrance immediately opposite the gap in the rubble here. The interior of the citadel-like enclosures taking in the summit of the boss are unmeasurable, though the inner cannot have exceeded (0.06ha). In its second phase the outer wall enclosed an oval area measuring about 120m from NNE to SSW by 70m transversely (0.67ha), though relatively little of it could have been occupied. Two later pens are visible immediately behind the lower of the two walls on the boss, but Christian Maclagan's account drawn up in the late 19th century is probably not a particularly reliable guide to the former presence of other structures in the interior. The fort with its viewpoint on the summit has been a major attraction for walkers and tourists, which has led to significant later disturbance, including the construction of wall-faces to revet the tumbled rubble to either side of the track approaching the entrance on the ENE before 1867; the date of a wall extending round an outcrop on the N side of this track is unknown. Remedial works along the pathway within the entrance recovered stratified charcoal samples that have been date to the early medieval period, though their precise context remains obscure (Atkinson 2006).

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -281460  Y:  7819866  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -2.528394  Latitude:  57.291172  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Aberdeenshire

Historic County:   Aberdeenshire

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Oyne

Condition

Extant:  
Cropmark:  
Likely Destroyed:  

Land Use

Woodland:  
Commercial Forestry Plantation:  
Parkland:  
Pasture (Grazing):  
Arable:  
Scrub/Bracken:  
Bare Outcrop:  
Heather/Moorland:  
Heath:  
Built-up:  
Coastal Grassland:  
Other:  

Landscape

Hillfort Type

Contour Fort:  
Partial Contour Fort:  
Promontory Fort:  
Hillslope Fort:  
Level Terrain Fort:  
Marsh Fort:  
Multiple Enclosure Fort:  

Topographic Position

Hilltop:  
Coastal Promontory:  
Inland Promontory:  
Valley Bottom:  
Knoll/Hillock/Outcrop:  
Ridge:  
Cliff/Plateau-edge/Scarp:  
Hillslope:  
Lowland:  
Spur:  

Dominant Topographic Feature:  Dominant feature visible for miles around

Aspect

North:  
Northeast:  
East:  
Southeast:  
South:  
Southwest:  
West:  
Northwest:  
Level:  

Elevation

Altitude:  518.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

Dates of AD 640-780 and 340-540 have ben returned from an obscure context

Reliability:  D - None

Pre 1200BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
1200BC - 800BC:  
400BC - AD50:  
AD50 - AD400:  
AD400 - AD 800:  
Post AD800:  
Unknown:  

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✓  At least two later structures built within the interior, and disturbance through tourist activities visiting the viewpoint on the summit.

C14:  Two radiocarbon dates

Investigations

RCAHMS and Abberdeenshire Council hold extensive collections of oblique aerial photographs

1st Identified Written Reference (1726):  Noted by Alexander Gordon (1726, 162)
Other (1840):  Noted (NSA, 12, Aberdeenshire, 570-1)
1st Identified Map Depiction (1867):  Annotated Fort on the 1st edition OS 25-inch map (Aberdeenshire 1870, sheet 53.4; Name Book, Aberdeenshire, no.70, p 60 )
Earthwork Survey (1876):  Plan and description by Christian Maclagan (1881, 35-7; RCAHMS DC52959)
Other (1943):  Description by Douglas Simpson (1943, 60-1)
Other (1962):  Scheduled
Other (1973):  Surveyed at 1:2500 by the OS
Other (1977):  Surveyed at 1:10,000 by the OS
Other (1981):  Visited by the Hill-Fort Study Group
Earthwork Survey (1996):  Plan and description by RCAHMS (Halliday 2007, 105-7, fig 6.32; RCAHMS DC 44322, DC44401-4, DC44611, DC44651-2, DC44703-4 & SC1333030)
Excavation (2006):  Remedial work along the path (Atkinson 2006)
Other (2008):  Re-Scheduled

Interior Features

Two later structures, but otherwise featureless

Water Source

Douglas Simpson claims there was once a stone-lined well, but it was filled in at the beginning of the 20th century (1943, 121)

None:  
Spring:  
Stream:  
Pool:  
Flush:  
Well:  
Other:  

Surface

No Known Features:  
Round Stone Structures:  
Rectangular Stone Structures:  
Curvilinear Platforms:  
Other Roundhouse Evidence:  
Pits:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  

Excavation

Stratified deposits of uncertain context

No Known Excavation:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Geophysics

No Known Geophysics:  
Pits:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Quarry Hollows:  
Other:  
Nothing Found:  

Finds

No Known Finds:  
Pottery:  
Metal:  
Metalworking:  
Human Bones:  
Animal Bones:  
Lithics:  
Environmental:  
Other:  

Aerial

NO APPARENT FEATURES

APs Not Checked:  
None:  
Roundhouses:  
Rectangular Structures:  
Pits:  
Postholes:  
Roads/Tracks:  
Other:  

Entrances

See main summary

Total Number of Breaks Through Ramparts:  

Number of Possible Original Entrances:  3:  Includes an entrance in an earlier wall

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (East):  Simple Gap:  heavily reconstructed through outer wall
Entrance 2 (Southeast):  Simple Gap:  Through earlier outer wall
Entrance 3 (Southwest):  Simple Gap:  Through both walls forming the W sector

Enclosing Works

Major outer wall enclosing whole of the boss forming the summit, but with at least two inner walls on the boss itself. The relationships between the various works are unknown

Enclosed Area 1:  0.67ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  
Enclosed Area 3:  
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  0.7ha.

Total Footprint Area:  1.3ha.

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✓  Earlier outer wall is set immediately to the rear of the main wall on the SE and W

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✓  

Number of Ramparts:  3

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  1
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  3
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  1
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  1

Current Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  
Unknown:  

Multi-period Morphology

Partial Univallate:  
Univallate:  
Partial Bivallate:  
Bivallate:  
Partial Multivallate:  
Multivallate:  

Surface Evidence

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Rubble:  
Wall-walk:  
Evidence of Timber:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
Other:  

Excavated Evidence

Defences not excavated

None:  
Earthen Bank:  
Stone Wall:  
Murus Duplex:  
Timber-framed:  
Timber-laced:  
Vitrification:  
Other Burning:  
Palisade:  
Counter Scarp Bank:  
Berm:  
Unfinished:  
No Known Excavation:  
Other:  

Gang Working

Gang Working:  ✗ 

Ditches

Ditches:  

Number of Ditches:  

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Atkinson, D (2007) 'Mither Tap, Bennachie, Aberdeenshire (Oyne parish), watching brief, radiocarbon dating'. Disc Exc Scot, New Ser, 8 (2007), 28

Feachem, R (1963) A guide to prehistoric Scotland. Batsford: London (p 104-5)

Gordon, A (1726) Itinerarium Septentrionale: or A Journey Thro most of the Counties of Scotland And Those in the North of England. London

Halliday, S P (2007) The later prehistoric landscape. In RCAHMS (2007) In the Shadow of Bennachie: A Field Archaeology of Donside, Aberdeenshire. RCAHMS & Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Edinburgh

Maclagan, C (1881) 'Benachie, ancient fortress', Chips from old stones

Name Book, Ordnance Survey Object Name Books (6 inch and 1/2500 scale); available http://www.scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/

Simpson, W D (1943) The Province of Mar, being the Rhind Lectures. Aberdeen University Studies, Aberdeen

Terms of Use

The online version of the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland should be cited as:

Lock, G. and Ralston, I. 2017.  Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland. [ONLINE] Available at: https://hillforts.arch.ox.ac.uk.

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