Head for the Hills: Nucleated Hilltop Settlement in the Irish Bronze Age

James O'Driscoll* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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In Bronze Age Ireland, the settlement record almost exclusively comprises individual, isolated farmsteads dotted throughout the island (Ginn, 2013, 2016). Recent studies have shown that these are incredibly homogenous, with the nearly 700 excavated examples showing no signs of significant variation in terms of size or density and little in the way of high-status material culture. This conflicts with other evidence from this period, which points to an elite culture inferred by extensive long-distance trading, the manufacture of high-status goods and the construction of massive communal monuments such as hillforts. The latter comprise some of Europe’s largest and most impressive monuments and are often recognised as regional centres of power and authority. Until recently, these monuments have received little attention in Ireland and have rarely been integrated into the broader study of Irish Bronze Age settlement patterns. Indeed, it is at hillforts, which might be regarded as the permanent settlement of an elite and a central space for a disparate community, that we should find larger structures and more nuanced evidence for settlement hierarchies if they exist. This paper aims to collate the settlement evidence within Irish hillforts and other unenclosed upland settlements, integrating this within the broader narrative of the contemporary settlement pattern. It is argued that a clear hierarchy of settlement is apparent at some of the densely settled Irish hillforts, and that these formed central spaces for a disparate community where architecture formed the main arena for the display of status and group identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-47
Number of pages47
JournalJournal of World PreHistory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

The surveys at Brusselstown Ring were funded by an Irish Research Council funded PhD scholarship and a Heritage Council ‘Community Heritage Grants Scheme 2017’.


  • Nucleated settlement
  • Bronze Age settlement
  • hillfords
  • hierarchies


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