ARCHAEOLOGISTS are probing an ancient mystery uncovered by workers deep in a Highland forest.

The crumbling ruins are believed to have been an Iron Age fort, or possibly the home of a local chief or lord, and date back to about 2,400 years ago.

The site was known about from a survey taken in the 1940s, but had been forgotten about until it was spotted by loggers clearing the land.

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Now researchers are unravelling its tantalising mystery, with evidence showing the structure may have a violent past and was burnt down twice and rebuilt before finally being abandoned.

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However, a lack of artefacts uncovered during the investigation raises the intriguing possibility that the site may have only been used by prehistoric Scots living nearby as a refuge during times of war or strife.

The ruins were uncovered on forestry land on a hill known as Comar Wood in Strathglass, near Inverness, and excavated by a team of archaeologists from AOC Archaeology for two weeks.

Once cleared of trees, the remains of a large roundhouse known as a broch or dun-house were revealed, along with four other structures and a large defensive wall.

It is estimated that the structure was in use for 600 years at a time when Scotland was a tribal society with communities scattered on their own fiefs or parcels of land.

The dun-house stands above a fertile valley and it has been suggested it began life as the home of a local chieftain, but was soon taken over by the people who lived nearby and adapted for use as a defensive structure.

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Among the artefacts uncovered were signs of metalworking, and stones for grinding grains. Little remains to indicate who its inhabitants were and the lack of anything linked to human habitation indicates the structure was rarely used.

The report concludes: “The reuse of these sites and lack of considerable artefactual material suggest that these sites were nothing to do with elite settlements, but probably related to more autonomous farming communities establishing a presence and control over territory.

“The reuse indicates successive groups returning to the same site, although, for what purpose, it is unclear.

“It seems apparent that the second phase of rebuilding involved more careful reconstruction, while the third phase was a rather rapid constriction of the space for very temporary use.”

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Archaeologist Mary Peteranna, of AOC Archaeology, said: “Where the Dun-house was built suggests it was maybe the home of a chief, and it would have been visible from quite a way off as it sits above the valley.

“We don’t know why it was used in the way it appears to have been, and more excavation would be needed to further investigate the site.”

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Pics: AOC Archaeology