The Aran Islands are situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Clare and Galway. These beautiful islands are full of stories, with history and heritage around every corner. Archaeologically, they are renowned for their important ancient monasteries and their spectacular stone forts. There are seven key stone forts on the Aran Islands: Dún Aonghasa (also known in its English spelling as Dun Aengus), Dún Eoghanachta, Dún Eochla and Dún Dúchathair on Inis Mór; Dún Chonchúir and Dún Fearbhaí on Inis Meáin; and Dún Formna on Inis Oírr. These iconic forts are truly monumental in size with diameters ranging from 27m to 90m. Dún Aonghasa is the oldest, and perhaps most famous, of all these seven. It encompasses an area of almost 5.8 hectares (14 acres), and is defined by a series of three curving walls forming an outer, middle and inner enclosure that terminate at the edge of a breathtakingly sheer cliff. The earliest activity at the site dates back to the Middle Bronze Age, around 3,500 years ago, though evidence suggests that the majority of the fort’s visible remains had their origin in the later Bronze Age, c.1100 BC, when the enclosures of the fort were first constructed.
The outer enclosure was first established in around 1000 BC. Though the drystone walls are quite low, the outer enclosure was constructed along the edge of a natural terrace which helped to make it a formidable sight for anyone approaching the fort. The area that the wall encloses is very exposed to the weather, and during the excavations, no evidence of habitation was found. The outer enclosure may have been a place to pen livestock, or it may simply have been constructed to form a mental and physical ‘boundary’ or separation from the surrounding landscape.
The middle enclosure not only provided shelter from the south-westerly winds but also got the best of the available sunshine. In the Bronze Age, the middle and inner enclosure walls were about 2m high and 2m thick. By the early medieval period, builders had increased the original walls so that they now stood at 6m high and 5m wide in places. The inner enclosure, protected by the two outer enclosures may only have been accessible to people of higher status, which could be based on a persons age, ancestry, family, gender or rank.
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