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Famous Dunadd Carvings revealed for first time in 30 years

19 June 2009

Evocative carvings at what was believed to be the inauguration site of the ancient kings of Dal Riata have been revealed for the first time in 30 years.

Experts from Historic Scotland removed the concrete replica which covers the carved rock at the Dunadd hillfort, in Kilmartin Glen, during a week-long conservation project at the start of June.

After three decades they were keen to see whether covering the rock had been effective in protecting it from weathering and vandalism.

The approach had been a pioneering one, so the conservation team was not quite sure what to expect.

Michael Burgoyne, Historic Scotland district architect, who led the project said: “We wanted to check the condition of the stone so we can plan its future conservation.

“Lifting the replica to see if everything was alright was slightly nerve-wracking to begin with but very rewarding thereafter.

“It was in excellent condition, which helps to show that this is a viable approach to protecting carved stone.”

The original bedrock, on a terrace at the summit of the hill, contains an unusual group of carvings of a basin, two footprints, an incised boar, and has an Ogham inscription and what may be a rock cut throne.

Dunadd was of great importance as the principal royal seat of the Dal Riata, which comprised a series of large tribal groupings whose principal heartland was Argyll from AD 400-800.

One reason for the timing of the exercise was that the replica had suffered some damage which needed to be repaired.

The conservation works were undertaken by Stephen Gordon and Colin Muir, stone conservators from the HS conservation centre, with the assistance of the MCU, Lochgilphead Depot.

Notes for editors:

  • Dunadd is an early medieval hillfort overlooking the River Add. It occupies a series of natural terraces, defined by collapsed stone ramparts.
  • It was visited by kings from all over northern Britain and is the leading contender to be the ‘chief place of the region’ where St Columba met a Gaulish merchant.
  • The site is one of the few places recorded in the early historic annals. The Annals of Ulster record at siege at Dun At in AD 683 and its seizure in 736 by the King of the Picts.
  • The isolated rocky hill rises steeply out of the surrounding countryside and is a prominent landmark in KIlmartin Glen.
  • The site was ‘rediscovered’ as a ‘capital’ and royal inauguration site in the 19th century. Excavations in the early 20th century demonstrated that the site produced finds, but otherwise contributed little.
  • Dunadd came into guardianship in 1932.
  • A temporary protective shelter was erected while the work was carried out and public access was restricted for a week.
  • Materials had to be lifted to the site by helicopter in advance of the project.
  • HS will now formulate plans for the future conservation of the stone.
  • The project provided an opportunity to examine and photograph and laser scan the carved surface. This will allow a new replica to be made – when the current one wears out – without having to make a mould of the original rock.
  • It was necessary to close the site to the public during the work because the rock needed to be covered with a special tent for the laser scanning to work and due to the delicacy of the conservation work.
  • Historic Scotland is delighted to be supporting the 2009 Year of Homecoming with a series of initiatives including family trails, spectacular events and the creation of a Homecoming Pass for heritage attractions in association with other heritage organisations.

For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871