A major discovery by archaeologists working in Perthshire will cast new light on understanding of the earliest history of Scotland.
A team from the Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project have uncovered near the village of Dunning an exquisitely preserved Iron Age broch filled with evidence of early contact between the Picts and the Roman Empire.
The massively fortified dwelling, the preferred residence of the elite during Roman times, is the first of its kind to be discovered in the Scottish Lowlands in around 100 years. Situated at the top of a hill to offer occupants 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside, the broch’s drystone walls stand in excess of two metres high and five metres thick.
The SERF team uncovered evidence that after the broch was destroyed by fire, the Picts built a palisaded fortress directly on top of the site which was likely occupied by a Pictish warlord.
Prof Stephen Driscoll, Professor of Historical Archaeology at the University of Glasgow and director of the SERF project, said: “There can be no doubt that we have located one of the major centres of Pictish power from the 1st and 2nd centuries. The scale of the architecture is colossal and the tower-like structure would have visually dominated its surroundings.
“It’s not unreasonable to see this as a seat of a Celtic chieftain, who collected a wide range of luxury objects from the Roman world perhaps through trading with the Romans or possibly even serving in the Roman army. The artefacts are of particular interest as they date to the time of the first contact with the Roman world and offer numerous clues to how the Picts might have begun their interactions with the Roman Empire.
“This is the best example of an Iron Age Roman site being reoccupied by the Picts. We have long suspected that this happened, but now we can examine the Picts’ relationships with the Romans in much more detail.”
Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said: “The wealth of information coming from this excavation is incredible with potentially far-reaching implications for how we view our history.
“To be able to reveal such an exceptional site that holds impressive architecture, artefacts and has been used and reused over generations to give us new understanding of Celts, Picts and Romans is outstanding and I would like to congratulate the team for their hard work and dedication that has certainly paid off.”
The finds from the broch’s interior include a wide range of Roman trade goods in excellent condition, including a bronze patera, a glass vessel, an unusual lead bowl, bangles of coloured glass and bronze, beads of glass and amber as well numerous fragmented objects of bronze, iron and lead. The team also uncovered characteristic native artefacts including a decorated stone lamp, a spindle whorl and weaving comb.
Prof Driscoll added: “The majority of the known Lowland brochs were excavated poorly by antiquarians or were not as well preserved as the items we’ve uncovered. These items’ discovery is particularly valuable as it will allow this high-quality material to be examined in a disciplined manner in future years and play a role in developing out understanding of this area of Scottish history.”
The excavations were directed by Dr Heather James of Northlight Heritage, a SERF partner organisation. The SERF team, which is drawn from the Universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Chester and supported by students and volunteers from across Scotland, Europe and North America, is exploring the early origins of Scotland through intensive excavations in and around Strathearn and Royal Forteviot.
This year’s discovery is the most recent in a string of successes for the SERF team, the most notable of which was an early Bronze Age dagger burial which included the earliest floral tribute ever discovered in the UK.
Major sponsorship for the SERF project comes from the University of Glasgow, Historic Scotland, the British Academy and the Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust.