Rampart Scotland was conceived in 2010 as a training and research project, combining the talents of professional archaeologists Murray Cook and David Connolly. The overarching aim of the project is to date the major constructional phases of activity on sites referred to as ‘hillforts’, in order to create a temporal framework for their use, reuse and eventual demise.
Following on from the Hillforts of Strathdon project carried out by Murray in Aberdeenshire (Murray is currently completing his Phd on the topic), Rampart Scotland began to formalise training and refine methodologies of investigation, thus creating a unique long term project that combines archaeological fieldwork with an approved research design.
Past Horizons asked David and Murray about their research project which is now entering its 6th year, and looking forward to a summer fieldschool in July of this year at Sheriffside…
Describe a typical hillfort.
We tend to view the word “hillfort” as an outmoded way to describe these sites, but recognise that it is a convenient shorthand. For example, some are not even located on hills and the dates range from the Late Bronze Age (1000 BC) to the Early Medieval period (up to AD 1000). However, the main characteristics tend to be an encircling ditch and bank, (sometimes multiple) and usually sitting on a topographic prominence, they can be about 1 ha in extent, control/overlook routes or landscapes, and predominately date to the Early – Mid Iron-Age (600-300 BC).
Which Iron-Age tribe inhabited the East Lothian hillforts?
We know the name from a map of Britannia by Claudius Ptolemy dating to around AD 120 where the tribe is called Otadini, more usually referred to now as Votadini.
Votadini is thought to be the Latinised version of the Brythonic name Wotād, whose Indo-European root suggests that the name represents ‘Foundation’ or ‘Founder’. The Votadini later became known as the Gododdin, a Middle Welsh version of the Old Welsh ‘Goutodin‘. (Read more about them here).
The nobles and warriors of the Gododdin were decimated around AD 600 at the Battle of Catraeth, and never recovered from that defeat at the hands of the Anglian kingdom pushing up from the south.
The word hillfort has military/defensive connotations. How do you think they functioned?
The nuanced “banked enclosure of uncertain date and function“, perhaps does a disservice to the romance of the monument. However, it is clear that fort is a very subjective term, where display and power may be more important than military function per se. Some sites would no doubt have been defensive, while others may also have been local or regional power centres. Some appear to have changed function and form over large spans of time (1000 years in the case of Sheriffside for instance).
Why the Lothians?
Apart from it being a particularly beautiful area, it is a region that is rich in hillfort sites. However, there has been surprisingly little research done into these monuments; even with 72 known hillfort sites in the whole Lothian region and well in excess of 650 prehistoric enclosures within the plain and surrounding hills. Confining the research area to a roughly 3 x 3 km zone, we are able to methodically examine a series of these sites which skirt the northern side of the Lammermuir hills, and relate them both temporally and geographically – as well as look at their internal phasing.
Sum up the four year project at White Castle?
A success that builds upon success! Over the four year initial project at White Castle, a complete methodology evolved into a streamlined process involving topographic and geophysical survey and keyhole trenching to gather C14 dateable material, while investigating the constructional make-up of the major features. The site is now comprehensively dated and surveyed for the first time, providing a solid basis for further research and the first completed monument record in our Lothian survey area.
What skills do you teach at the summer field school?
Training is seen as key to understanding, and although nobody is forced to learn, the activities are structured in such a way that it is both fun and integral with the process. We teach the main skills set out in the BAJR Archaeology Skills Passport:
• Tool use and excavation techniques
• Section and plan drawing
• Filling out context cards
• Recording samples and finds
For those that wish to carry these skills through into an archaeological career, the Skills Passport is used to record what has been learned during the fieldschool. Currently the Skills Passport– developed by our very own David Connolly – is endorsed by the professional organisations in the UK, including the Chartered Institute for Archaeologists (CIfA) and is accepted by the 50 top companies as a proof of competence.
One of the most important skills you will learn is to ask questions if you don’t understand……there are no stupid questions!
How does the approach to the archaeology differ at Sheriffside from White Castle?
The major difference at Sheriffside is the visibility of the monument; where White Castle had upstanding banks and deep ditches, Sheriffside is completely ploughed out and the ditches are filled in – which is why it was only discovered in the 1990s, thanks to aerial photographic interpretation. Because the banks and ditches are not visible on the ground, we decided to carry out large keyholes. Although affecting a tiny percentage of the overall monument, they are large enough to ensure a coverage that allows us to examine the context of the features. Last season the lines of four separate palisades dated 100 years apart, were revealed. It also ensured that we can dig down safely the nearly 3m to the base of the later phase massive ditches.
We intend to carry out one more season at Sheriffside after this and are currently undertaking a topographic survey of Garvald Mains, where we hope to start excavation in 2017. We would ideally like to commence surveying Black Castle, Green Castle and Kidlaw for future excavation work.
Rampart Scotland is undertaking a field school at Sheriffside near Gifford in East Lothian from 6-17 July 2015. If you would like to know more about how to take part, more details can be found at the website, or email Murray at email@example.com.
(Additional information on the Votadini was provided by Edward Dawson, from The Oxford History of England: Roman Britain, Peter Salway, and from External Link: The Scottish Place-Name Society Brittonic Language in the Old North database.)