Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland

SC3085: Brown Caterthun  

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HER:  Angus SMR per Aberdeenshire Council NO56NE0001

NMR:  NO 56 NE 1 (34969)

SM:  90069

NGR:  NO 5553 6686

X:  355530  Y:  766860  (EPSG:27700)

Boundary:  

Summary

This complex series of fortifications is situated on the Brown Caterthun, the NE of two rounded hills crowned by forts to either side of the saddle carrying the minor public road across the hills to Bridge of Lethnot. These form a series of enclosures of differing sizes, and though they have been sampled by excavation, which revealed further complexity, the precise sequence of their construction is not fully understood. The innermost enclosure, which is probably also the most recent, is oval on plan and measures about 88m from NNW to SSE by 55m transversely (0.28ha) within a low bank; excavation on the S of one of the five entrances through this bank uncovered twin palisade trenches partly beneath its line; the observed relationships at different points between the palisade trenches and the bank were contradictory, but the presence of the packing stones rising in some places into the body of the bank implies that they are either contemporary or the palisades were cut through the bank; A radiocarbon date from the buried ground surface provides a terminus post quem of 360-40 cal BC. The only features within its interior are a little W of centre a rock-cut pit apparently dating from 800-400BC, and occupying the S end an undated enclosure defined by a shallow ditch 1m broad by 0.3m deep. The next line of defences lies eccentrically between 50m and 20m down the slope, comprising a substantial bank about 7m thick by 1.5m high, from which occasional runs of outer face protrude, with two low outer terraces lying concentrically outside it; Internally this enclosure measures about 190m from N to S by 140m transversely (2ha). Excavation revealed a stone foundation over 4m thick in the core of this bank, probably originally with a turf capping, while a palisade trench ran to the rear of the inner of the two outer terraces. One of nine entrances that pierce these defences was excavated on the E, not only revealing two phases of construction, but also a timber-lined entrance passage approaching from the exterior. The registration of the gaps through the rampart and those through the outer terraces is relatively close, probably indicating that these defences are closely related, but the axis of the northernmost is curiously dislocated to create an oblique approach that exposes the visitor's left side, while a tenth possible gap in the outer terraces on the SW is blocked by the inner line, raising a possibility that the outer may be of earlier date. The chronology of any of these lines lacks any precision, but they probably date from before 400BC. The outermost circuits comprise two ramparts, each accompanied by extensive traces of shallow quarry scoops to their rear, and the outer with an external ditch and a counterscarp bank. These two circuits are pierced by no fewer than nine entrances, of which those on the NE, ESE, SSE, S and NW share axes with entrances through the middle lines; worn hollows can be seen traversing the space between the ramparts and in the case of the four around the SE quadrant the tracks are flanked by low walls or banks. Excavation, however, has shown that while the inner of these two ramparts, which was of composite earth, turf and stone construction and laced with timbers, dates from before 400 BC, charcoal from the old ground surface below the outer returned a date of 410-160 cal BC. This latter was little more than a dump of quarried material, probably with a turf outer face, and in one place an earlier palisade trench was found beneath the counterscarp bank. The configuration of these outer defences presents a curious misalignment to create the appearance of an enclosure between the two lines on the E, though to some extent this is now confounded by the radiocarbon chronology. Nevertheless, the outer cannot have operated in isolation, and the banks flanking entrances and running back to gaps in the inner imply that at the time of its construction the two were conceived in unison. This is an indication that there are further complications to be unravelled in the structure of the inner, particularly as one of the five radiocarbon dates from the timberwork in its core is directly contemporary with the one from beneath the outer. With the exception of what may be an unfinished line of defence, which can be seen contouring around the SE spur, these represent the most extensive enclosure on the hill, taking in an area of some 5.5ha; the projection of the unfinished line, however, takes in 8.88ha.

Status

Citizen Science:  ✗  

Reliability of Data:  Confirmed

Reliability of Interpretation:  Confirmed

Location

X:  -303855  Y:  7717564  (EPSG: 3857)

Longitude:  -2.729573  Latitude:  56.791214  (EPSG:4326)

Country:  Scotland

Current County or Unitary Authority:  Angus

Historic County:   Angus

Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  Menmuir

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:  

Aspect

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

Elevation

Altitude:  286.0m

Boundary

Boundary Type:  

Second HER:  

Second Current County or Unitary Authority:  

Second Historic County:  

Second Current Parish/Community/Council/Townland:  

Dating Evidence

On the basis of the limited excavations it is not possible to demonstrate the precise sequence of fortification, or its precise chronology; nor can it be shown that occupation was continuous. Nevertheless, the dates clearly show that the fortifications belong in the pre-Roman Iron Age, with major phases of fortification both before and after 400 BC

Reliability:  B - Medium

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

Pre Hillfort Activity:  ✓  Flints include several Mesolithic or Neolithic types

Post Hillfort Activity:  ✗  

C14:  Thirteen radiocarbon dates

Investigations

RCAHMS holds the excavation archives.

Earthwork Survey (1755):  Plan by William Roy (1793, pl xlviii)
1st Identified Map Depiction (1755):  William Roy's Military Map of Scotland (1747-55)
Other (1793):  Noted (Stat Acct, v, 1793, 151)
Excavation (1845):  Reported by Alexander Warden, but possibly in confusion for the White Caterthun (1880-5, iv, 366-8)
Other (1863):  Annotated Fort on the 1st edition OS 25-inch map (Forfar 1865, sheet 19.15)
Other (1882):  Scheduled
Earthwork Survey (1898):  Plan and description by David Christison (1898, 258, fig 99, 261-3; 1900, 102 fig 52, 105-6)
Other (1956):  Description for RCAHMS Survey of Marginal Lands (Feachem 1963, 107-8)
Other (1958):  Visited by the OS
Other (1982):  Recognition of the unfinished sector (Ralston 1982)
Earthwork Survey (1989):  Plan and description (RCAHMS DC14826 & SC337178)
Other (1994):  Visited by the Hill-Fort Study Group
Excavation (1995):  By CFA Ltd (Dunwell and Strachan 1995; 2007)
Geophysical Survey (1995):  As part of the excavations by CFA Ltd (Dunwell and Strachan 2007)
Excavation (1996):  By CFA Ltd (Dunwell and Strachan 1996; 2007)
Other (2000):  Re-Scheduled

Interior Features

Featureless apart from the minor enclosure within the innermost defences, and the nearby rock-cut pit. The inner rampart of the middle lines has traces of some internal quarrying to its rear, but this is a particular feature of the ramparts of the outer lines.

Water Source

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

Pits, gullies and post-holes, and otherwise invisible palisade trenches

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

An Iron knife blade, three hammer stones, a possible rubbing stone and a small assemblage of flints

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:  9:  Multiple entrances through the various lines. Ignoring the five in the innermost circuit, these generalise into nine through each of the main inner and outer circuits, five of them on axes that penetrate both and are enumerated below with the same number. The innermost are enumerated first, followed by those in the middle belt, and finally those in the outer belt, to a total of 21

Guard Chambers:  

Chevaux de Frise:  ✗  

Entrance 1 (North):  Simple Gap:  Through innermost bank and palisades
Entrance 2 (East):  Simple Gap:  Through innermost bank and palisades
Entrance 3 (South):  Simple Gap:  Through innermost bank and palisades; staggered terminals
Entrance 4 (West):  Simple Gap:  Through innermost bank and palisades
Entrance 5 (Northwest):  Simple Gap:  Through innermost bank and palisades
Entrance 6 (North):  Oblique:  Through the middle lines. Oblique approach exposing left side
Entrance 7 (Northeast):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 7 (Northeast):  Simple Gap:  Through the outer lines and roughly aligned on an entrance in the middle lines
Entrance 8 (East):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 9 (East):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 10 (Southeast):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 10 (Southeast):  Passage-way/Corridor:  Through the outer lines and aligned on an entrance in the middle lines
Entrance 11 (South):  Oblique:  Through the middle lines; approaching obliquely through the outer lines exposing right side
Entrance 11 (South):  Passage-way/Corridor:  Through the outer lines and aligned on an entrance through the middle lines
Entrance 12 (Southwest):  Simple Gap:  Through the outer terraces of the middle lines
Entrance 13 (Southwest):  Oblique:  Middle lines. Slightly oblique approach exposing right side
Entrance 14 (West):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 15 (Northwest):  Simple Gap:  Through the middle lines
Entrance 15 (Northwest):  Simple Gap:  Through the outer lines and aligned on an entrance in the middle lines
Entrance 16 (North):  Oblique:  Through the outer lines, exposing right side
Entrance 17 (East):  Passage-way/Corridor:  Through the outer lines, which diverge abruptly in this sector
Entrance 19 (East):  Passage-way/Corridor:  Through the outer lines and aligned on an entrance in the middle lines
Entrance 20 (Southwest):  Simple Gap:  Through the outer lines
Entrance 21 (West):  Over-lapping:  Outer lines. Oblique approach exposing left side

Enclosing Works

At least six identifiable lines of earthworks, with other hidden lines of palisading, conforming to roughly three separate enclosures

Enclosed Area 1:  0.28ha.
Enclosed Area 2:  2.0ha.
Enclosed Area 3:  5.55ha.
Enclosed Area 4:  
Total Enclosed Area:  5.6ha.

Total Footprint Area:  8.88ha.

Multi-period Enclosure System:  ✓  

Ramparts Form a Continuous Circuit:  ✓  

Number of Ramparts:  6

Number of Ramparts NE Quadrant:  6
Number of Ramparts SE Quadrant:  6
Number of Ramparts SW Quadrant:  6
Number of Ramparts NW Quadrant:  6

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

Ditches

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:  2:  One being the minor unfinished work

Annex

Annex:  ✗  

References

Christison, D (1898) Early fortifications in Scotland: motes, camps and forts: the Rhind lectures in archaeology for 1894. Blackwood & Sons: Edinburgh

Christison, D (1900) 'The forts, "camps", and other field-works of Perth, Forfar and Kincardine'. Proc Soc Antiq Scot 34 (1899-1900), 43-120

Dunwell and Strachan, A J and R (1995) 'Brown Caterthum (Menmuir parish), hillfort survey and excavation'. Disc Exc Scot (1995), 94-96

Dunwell and Strachan, A J and R (1996) 'Brown Caterthun (Menmuir parish), excavations'. Disc Exc Scot (1996), 13

Dunwell and Strachan, A J and R (2007) Excavations at Brown Caterthun and White Caterthun Hillforts, Angus, 1995-1997. TAFAC Monograph 5. Tayside and Fife Archaeological Committee: Perth

Feachem, R W. (1963) Guide to prehistoric Scotland. Batsford: London.

Ralston, I B M. (1982) 'Brown Caterhun Fort (Menmuir p), bank , ditch'. Disc Exc Scot (1982), 30.

Warden, A J. (1880-5) Angus or Forfarshire: the land and people, descriptive and historical (5v). Charles Alexander & Co: Dundee

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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