Excavations at Moredun Top

A broch within a hillfort?


In September 2015, AOC led public excavations on Moredun Top on behalf of Tay Landscape Partnership. Moncreiffe Hill comprises two summits, Moredun Top and Moncreiffe Hill, both of which have hillforts on their summits. The four week season of excavations on Moredun Top represented the first recorded excavations on this spectacular hillfort site, which has long been assumed to be early historic in date.

Trenches targeted five key areas: the wall of the lower annexe/enclosure; the double defences; a large circular feature on the summit; one of the inner ramparts; and a possible hut circle.

The ramparts and annexe/enclosure wall were found to be built of massive stone blocks which were placed onto the natural subsoil.  The builders had made use of locally-occurring igneous rock, and the odd glacial erratic – granite, for example, deposited locally by moving glaciers – demonstrated opportunistic use of whatever stone was available. However, large red sandstone was also used. Sandstone, a sedimentary rock, occurs within a few miles of the hillfort, and must have been brought to site for use in the construction of the defences. The walls were generally between 4m and 5m wide, and although truncated to just over 1m in many places, would probably have stood as tall as they were wide.

RampartWe had a suspicion before we started digging that we might not have been the first to break ground at Moredun Top, and we were right. A few strangely deep ditches have long been interpreted as evidence of antiquarian investigation, and re-excavation proved that the popular wall-chasing method of the time was employed here: a common strategy was to locate a wall and essentially dig a narrow trench following the wall, to discover the footprint of a building or to identify the line of the defences. Thankfully, these early excavations were rarely comprehensive and usually leave plenty of archaeological deposits in situ, for modern archaeologists to excavate and analyse.

The massive circular feature on the summit of the hill turned out to be rather intriguing. A massive stone-built wall perhaps represents the remains of a broch or Atlantic roundhouse. A charcoal-rich deposit including some large fragments of wood, discovered in the interior of the feature, will hopefully yield important radiocarbon dates and perhaps even allow for identification to species.

Artefacts were few, as might be expected on a prehistoric/early historic hillfort site, but sharp-eyed volunteers retrieved a few choice finds including a sandstone bead, a gaming piece, and a possible spindle whorl roughout.

An excavation of this magnitude could not have been achieved without the dedication and commitment of Tay LP volunteers, who gave 4150 hours of hard graft over four weeks. Thank you so much to everyone who came and got their hands dirty with us!

We will return in 2016 and 2017 to find out more about life on Moredun Top.

Excavations at Moncreiffe Hill are delivered through Tay Landscape Partnership, and are supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.