Comar Wood Dun

The dun is located at NH32509 31008 in the forestry about 1km south-west of Cannich; access is via the forestry track leading westwards from the Glen Cannich road.  The site is now signposted.  The dun had been obscured for many years by forestry planting, and was rediscovered in 2010 during a pre-felling check. In 2013 it was cleared of trees and was surveyed by a team from West Coast Archaeological Services (WCAS) led by Steven Birch, which carried out a “keyhole” excavation – a series of small trenches designed to explore the main features of the site.

The site consists of the remains of a large, stone-built, circular building, surrounded by an outer enclosure wall. It sits on a terrace on the hillside, with a commanding view up and down the strath. It is one of a series of fortified sites stretching up Strathglass, including two at Struy, and continuing to the fort at Knockfin.

A dun with a view!

It was originally thought to be a typical dun – a high circular building, sometimes with an internal gallery within the walls, dating to the Iron Age (1st. millennium BC) and sharing many similarities with brochs, which were stone towers with internal chambers and stairs inside the walls. Excavation showed, however, that the walls of this building could only have been 1.6 metres high at the most, and there was no evidence of passages within the walls. So it is actually categorized as a very substantial roundhouse, although no doubt it will continue to be known as “the dun”.

The building is about 23 metres in diameter externally, with very thick walls, and an interior diameter of about 14 metres. It has been very badly damaged by forestry planting, and stumps of felled trees stick up all over it. The roots of the trees have also damaged the archaeological layers beneath. It is still possible, however to make out some features of the building, such as external wall faces, and the entrance passage-way, again with facing stones, on the west side.

Entrance passage

Central slab-built hearth with whetstone in foreground and quernstone centre right

The excavators discovered a large rectangular hearth in the interior, and a ring of post-holes which would have held the posts which supported the roof. The roof itself would probably have been conical, and made of turf over wooden rafters. Other post-holes gave evidence of a timber porch and gateway at the entrance.  The building had twice been destroyed by fire, whether accidentally or as the result of warfare is not known. After it was finally abandoned, two small stone structures were built against the outside wall on the south-east side; these are thought to be Mediaeval or Post-Mediaeval and can be clearly seen. The dun itself is surrounded by an enclosure wall approximately 55 metres in diameter, with an entrance in the west, probably with a timber gateway.  There were few significant finds from the excavation. Some pieces of charcoal provided radiocarbon dates in the 1st. Millennium BC.

An upper and a lower rotary quern stone were found in the dun interior; this was the type of quern used in the Iron Age for grinding grain. A tiny perforated fragment of bronze was found in the entrance passage, but it was not possible to identify it (jewellery? Horse harness? Handle attachment for a drinking or cooking vessel?)

Because the dun and itself and the area within the enclosure were not fully excavated, there is not much information about the people who lived here. But based on parallels with similar Iron Age sites, it seems likely that the dun was the home of an important local family. Its situation overlooking the valley and its substantial construction suggest the high status of its inhabitants. Its defensive features – strong, wide walls, entrance gateway and outer enclosure – reflect the warlike nature of Iron Age society, as does the fact that it may have been deliberately burnt down, more than once.

Thanks to WCAS for the use of their excavation photos.

Artists Impression

Matt Ritchie, Archaeologist, Forestry and Land Scotland:-

“There is a structural theme to this reconstruction drawing of Comar Wood dun in Strathglass in the Highlands. The roundhouse had massive stone walls measuring about 5m in thickness. Excavation revealed that the dun was destroyed by fire, and that the entrance passage was formed using a framework of six opposing timbers, leading into an interior that was probably covered by a timber thatched roof. Artist Alan Braby used a narrative cutaway style, depicting the destruction of the dun by fire. This enables glimpses of both the stone and timber structure and of the dark interior, including the massive rectangular hearth. The fire is shown raging on the thatched roof on the left hand side, having progressed quickly through the thatch from bottom right. This has left the charred timbers visible propping up entrance passage, and both the massive stone walls and timber roof structure can be appreciated.”

Comar Wood Dun © Forestry and Land Scotland by Alan Braby 2019