Aberdeenshire HER - NJ42NE0001 - TAP O'NOTH FORT

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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNJ42NE0001
NRHE Card No.NJ42NE1
NRHE Numlink 17169
HES SM No. 63
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Complete 2
Details Remains of an impressive hillfort. At 563 m above sea level this is the second highest in Scotland after Griam Beg in Sutherland. Two defensive episodes have been identified. The larger, lower enclosure covers a massive 21 hectares with an outwork, a stony wall with a core of boulders, running round the break of slope on all but the steeper southeast side. There are at least 800 platform sites within this enclosure, as well as substantial tracks. The platforms are most numerous on northeast and northwest sides with a few larger ones on the more southerly slopes. Some of these may be quarries, at least near the upper fort. The upper fort consists of a massive stone wall, 6-8 m wide and up to 5 m high, that has been vitrified extremely heavily in places, enclosing a rectangular area. A large cistern in the interior is circa 2.2 m deep. In 1886 MacDonald excavated a section of the upper fort's wall but did not find anything. In 1997, within the upper fort, traces of a previously unrecorded enclosure formed by two concentric banks with a ditch were noted. The banks are circa 2 m wide by 0.5 m high with ditch circa 2 m wide. The bank to the east appears to run under the vitrified fort wall. Also two possible hut circles lie within the northern part of the later upper fort, circa 8m and 5m in diameter respectively. Aerial laser scanning of the fort was carried out in 2015 by FCS and University of Aberdeen. An evaluative excavation in the interior was carried out by University of Aberdeen (G. Noble) in 2017 and 2018. This clarified the structural elements of the interior banks, and the inner vitrified wall and contributed to understanding of how the wall had collapsed and been subject to antiquarian intervention and stone robbing over time. No definite structures or material evidence was uncovered in the interior area explored by the trench. Artefacts recovered included several flint flakes and modern bottle glass. Radiocarbon dates suggest activity for the construction and occupation of this upper fort to be between 5th Century BC and 1st Century BC. Three glass beads, three Roman sherds and a bronze terret were found near this lower enclosure. Further excavation in August 2019 by University of Aberdeen targeted the lower fort enclosure and two hut platforms within the interior. Trench 5 excavated one platform near the fort walls, and identified a spread of tumble from the vitrified fort overlying an occupation layer on the platform. Charcoal and a piece of wheel-thrown pottery were recovered and two samples from limited sondages through the upper occupation layers gave dates in the 5th-6th centuries. Trench 6 investigated a second platform mid-way down the hill. An arc of possible postholes was recorded around the edge of the built platform, probably for the outer wall of a building which contained a multi-phase hearth within a series of deposits, some of which produced imported Roman pottery. The lower hearth was larger and contained burnt animal bone, the smaller upper one containing evidence of metal working including crucible fragments, pieces of clay mould and several fragments of Roman pottery. Six radiocarbon dates from postholes and hearths returned 3rd -6th century dates. A larger trench was excavated across the terminal of an entrance to the lower enclosure, uncovering a roughly built stone bank., a collapsed kerb of upright stones confirming this as an original entrance. Radiocarbon samples yielded 3rd to 6th century dates, dating the lower fort to the end of the Later Iron Age/beginning of the medieval period. Examination of Lidar data and photogrammetry surveys has identified up to 808 possible hut platforms densely packed within the lower fort, with two main concentrations, on the northeast side of the hill, the second more evenly spread on the western side of the fort. Most platforms are between 4 m and 8 m in diameter. Trench 5 was revisited in 2021: two sondages revealed and sampled the floor layer which included deposits of animal bone and a pottery sherd, and a central hearth. Subsequent extension of the trench fully exposed the hearth and floor layer, revealing the structure to be oval/sub-circular measuring circa 6.8 m by 8.5 m. Finds (concentrated on the downslope side) included numerous sherds of hand-coiled pottery and two sherds of late Roman amphorae, a fragment of small copper-alloy projecting ring-headed pin, lump of iron, and a nail or fitting.
Last Update03/01/2024
Updated Bycpalmer
Date of Compilation20/05/1985

Google Map for NJ42NE0001

National Grid Reference: NJ 4847 2933

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
1886 Excavation
1983 Excavation
1997 Field Survey
2018 Excavation jamesodr1-407724
2015 Survey
2017 Excavation jamesodr1-407719
2019 Excavation jamesodr1-407725
2021 Environmental Assessment jamesodr1-424731

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
 1886  MACDONALD   
 1997  Richard StrachanCFA  
82018 Excavation  UOAUOA  
 2017 Excavation  UOAUOA  
 2019 Excavation  UOAUOA  
 2015 Survey  FCSFCS  

Artefact and Ecofact

Date MDate YArtefact TypeFinderRecovery MethodConditionStorage LocationAccess No.
   GLASS BEADS Stray Find  
   BRONZE TERRET Stray Find  
   ROMAN POTTERY Stray Find  
 2019 CRUCIBLE FRAGMENTS UoA Excavation  
 2019 CLAY MOULD FRAGMENT uoA Excavation  
 2021 COPPER ALLOY PIN UoA Excavation  


Samples Vitrified rock from main enclosure. Animal bone and organic material recovered from 2018 excavation. Samples from 2019 and 2021 excavation for radiocarbon dating.
Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

Monument Type 1Monument Type 2Monument Type 3OrderProbability