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Historic Scotland

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History

A natural fortification

It’s easy to see why Dunadd was desirable as the site for a power centre and fortification. Standing within a natural boggy basin, it sits atop a series of natural terraces. The fort was designed to make good use of the natural defences.

The climb to the summit indicates the importance of the site and its owner, the king. As you climb the hill you pass through a narrow natural passage, and through a series of terraces, each with the remains of once-formidable stone walls. The enclosure at the summit is surrounded by the strongest defences and is probably where the king would have ruled from.

Home of kings

Excavations in the 1980s found the mound was used as a fort more than 2,000 years ago. But the site is internationally renowned as a royal power centre of the Gaelic kings of Dál Riata, from about AD 500 to AD 800.

Dunadd is one of the few places referenced in early histories. It’s first mentioned in AD 683, by which point it was already a major power centre – potentially already the chief stronghold of Dál Riata. It may also be the spot where St Columba reportedly met a merchant from Gaul in the late 500s.

Power position

On a terrace immediately below the citadel are some remarkable carvings in the rock. There you can see:

  • a basin cut into the rock
  • an image of a boar
  • an inscription in the ogham alphabet
  • two human footprints

The carved footprints are the most extraordinary of all. They may have been used during inauguration ceremonies for new kings, symbolising the new ruler’s dominion over the land. Similar footprints can be found outside Clickimin Broch.

A rich archaeological site

Artefacts found here during excavations in the 1980s confirmed Dunadd’s royal status and revealed its international importance.

Finds included:

  • an impressive range of high-status weapons and metalwork
  • a large and diverse range of pottery, demonstrating the far-reaching connections of those who lived at Dunadd

An outstanding range of high-status activities took place here, including metalworking and fine craft activities, and trade across continental Europe – the source of some of the artefacts found. Indeed, Dunadd yielded the largest and most diverse range of pottery of any site in north-west Europe.

It was also a major production centre, and had one of the most significant metalworking workshops in Europe. Only one other site has produced nearly as many moulds – the royal site at Lagore, Ireland. The quality of its finished products – including Hunterston-type brooches – is unsurpassed.

A prehistoric landscape

A rich prehistoric landscape survives in Kilmartin Glen, providing a tantalising insight into its prehistoric population. The surviving rock art along the glen is remarkable for the number of elaborately carved outcrops, the style of and extent of the carvings, and their close association with other prehistoric monuments.  No other place in Scotland has such a concentration of prehistoric carved stone surfaces, and Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments.

Other carved rock outcrops around Kilmartin Glen include:

Other monuments include:

The glen is also home to an important collection of medieval sculptured stones.

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