MHG9068 - Marsh Fort - Gilchrist


The excavation of four evaluation trenches on a marsh fort at Gilchrist by Tarradale Through Time.

Type and Period (2)

  • PROMONTORY FORT (392 BC-207 AD, Iron Age - 550 BC to 560 AD)
  • (Alternate Type) FORT (Early Iron Age to Roman - 392 BC to 207 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

NH54NW 30 537 493.

NH 537 493. Promontory Fort (Site), Gilchrist: Cropmarks on air photographs show the arcs of three concentric ditches in an arable field 250 m NW of Gilchrist farmhouse (Visible on RCAHMS air photographs RC 1792-4, flown 1977). Apparently designed to cut off approach to a tongue of low-lying and comparatively level ground running NW into marshland, they are in effect part of the defensive system of promontory fort measuring about 85m by 30m.
RCAHMS 1979.

This site was included in the Atlas of Hillforts of Britain and Ireland online database. See link below for site record. <1>

Investigations at the site were undertaken as part of the Tarradale Through Time Project by NOSAS in 2018. See link below to the NOSAS Archaeology Blog for a summary of the work.

The fieldwork involved the excavation of four evaluation trenches that were opened in agricultural land and adjacent rough ground. The trenches confirmed the presence of buried archaeological deposits and features consistent with an enclosure bounded on the east side by a series of four concentric ditches of differing sizes, three of which were previously indicated by aerial photographs, and marshland on the remaining three sides. A trench opened down the north flank of the enclosure, into the adjacent peat bog and wetland, revealed evidence for a further, lateral, ditch and the remains of a subsequent lateral boundary, probably a wall, indicated by cobblestones and rubble, behind which cultural deposits containing charred plant material, pottery sherds and a schist quernstone had been deposited and immediately beyond which deposits of peat had accumulated. Excavation of the peat for the recovery of environmental columns revealed a large waterlogged timber tapered to a rough point, possibly a structural stake or pile.

A further small trench was opened towards the western end of the promontory to examine the location of a prominent lush-mark visible on aerial photographs. The cutting revealed a shallowly buried layer of very well consolidated clay and small stones the upper surface of which was scoured by plough marks, which is tentatively interpreted to reflect the remains of a rammed clay floor. The presence of the deposit raises the possibility that a more extensive structure or structures, contemporary with the formation and use of the promontory enclosure, are preserved at that location. <2>

Aerial photographs suggested the presence of a multi-ditched fort projecting into a marshy kettle hole that probably would have still contained standing water when the fort was constructed. Trench 1 picked up the three defensive ditches shown on the aerial photgraphs, plus an unexpected innermost ditch which may have been backed by a wall or timber pallasade running right round the perimeter of the fort. The largest ditch produced hazel charcoal which was radiocarbon dated to 162 BC to AD 22. The next ditch inwards gave a slightly later date of 17 - 207 AD. However , it is likely that construction of the impressive ditches is contemporary with the fort occupation date from the fourth or thrid century BC. Peaty soil butted up against a stone ramart where the fort projects into the marshy area contained a few pieces of gritty pottery as well as charcoal that was radiocarbondated to 392 - 206B BC.

The fort at Gichrist projects into a kettle hole which would originally have had standing water but was already silting up and becoming peat bog by the time the fort was contructed. During its heyday, the fort was surrounded by very wet marshy enviroment and we prefer the name mersh fort for the defensive structures at Gilchrist. <3>

NGR adjusted based on 2009 vertical aerial photographs. <4>

Sources/Archives (10)



Grid reference Centred NH 5371 4932 (129m by 71m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH54NW
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish URRAY

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (1)

External Links (4)

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