Archaeology Architecture History Irish Mythology - Seanchas

The Caterthuns, Two Iron Age Hillforts In Scotland

Some of you may have already seen this wonderful drone footage by Kieran Baxter featuring the Caterthuns, a pair of large hill forts about one kilometre apart on a ridge overlooking Strathmore, near the city of Brechin in Angus, Scotland. The first monument is situated to the west, an oval shaped enclosure surrounded by earthworks and topped by a dry-stone wall which gives the site its name of the White Caterthun (this defensive perimeter, originally several metres high and an amazing twelve metres thick, shows evidence of vitrification, the rocks having been subject to incredibly intense heat causing them to turn into a hardened glass-like substance). A well or cistern sits in the middle of the site. The second and historically earlier spot, to the east, is surrounded by five or six earthen embankments which seem to have been periodically burned, giving it the nickname of the Brown Caterthun (though ultimately the name may derive from terms related to the Welsh words caer “fortress” and bryn “hill”). There is very little evidence of permanent settlement on either site so their purpose remains uncertain, whether military, mercantile or ceremonial. Both feature a number entrances to the summit which radiate outwards and are clearly linked to each other.

The tell-tale signs of the monuments being subject to fire, mainly around the outer defences, may well point to some obscure ritual practice rather than to evidence of warfare or hostile actions. In any case, it certainly reminds one of the sub-genre of stories from early Irish literature featuring kings and heroes being burned in buildings and fortifications.

11 comments on “The Caterthuns, Two Iron Age Hillforts In Scotland

  1. Yes, I see the echoes of early Irish lit. Great post and thanks for including the additional links!


  2. ar an sliabh

    Great Scot! My favourite type of article. GRMMA,


  3. I was at Grianan of Aileach outside Derry a few weeks ago for the first time. It dates from much later – though some evidence of much earlier habitation – but it is such an impressive place (even though reconstructed in part). + 1 ar an sliabh. Great post.


    • I’ve been there a good few times myself and love it – when the tourists aren’t around 😉

      I would like to do more of this stuff than the politics. I have five articles on archaeology half-unfinished but rarely get the time these days to write anything more than hit-and-run posts.


      • Very true re tourists. Was there on a day when the clouds surrounded it so there was no sense of the horizon etc, but that made it more impressive somehow.

        Do you work in archaeology?


        • IT but archaeology, or history, was the original career path. Then the need for money got in the way and life took a different road. Regrettably.


          • I was thinking (wasn’t trying to pry) – great depth to your analyses. I’m not one either but have/had family who were and so not completely unfamiliar with excavations, doing illustrations of finds, etc.


            • Oh, that’s no bother at all, pry away! 😀

              Yeah, I wanted to follow that route, history-related or some such, but my father passed away at an earlyish age and I became the breadwinner in the house for a long while so all the big plans fell by the roadside. Can’t complain. Good job, good money, good life. Just not the one I was expecting. You got to feed the soul as well as the stomach 😉

              That said, if offered the choice of archaeologist, historian or comics writer/artist? Hmmm…


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