Destroyed in antiquity and appearing on no maps, Sheriffside was only rediscovered in 1981. Aerial photography picked up the parch marks of a large double ditched enclosure lying under pasture land and measuring over 150m in diameter.
Initial trial excavations showed that the site was a complex hillfort, containing a series of ditches, banks and palisades spanning nearly 1000 years between 600BC and 400AD.
The function of this site will have changed over a millennium of activity and we attempt to understand this by investigating the chronology of construction and destruction that took place. Keyhole excavation in 2012 uncovered a massive 9 metre wide and 3 metre deep ditch which was constructed after 360AD.
In AD 367 Roman Britain was attacked simultaneously by the Picts, Gaels, Irish and Saxons. The Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus called it barbarica conspiratio – a ‘barbarian conspiracy’.
The ‘Picts’ War’ saw damaging attacks on Hadrian’s Wall and Marcellinus states that the Picts were ‘roving at large and causing great devastation’.
Therefore, it is entirely possible that the massive ditch at Sheriffside was built for defence against a threat that relates to the collapse of the Roman presence in Britain. The area which is now East Lothian lies between the Firth of Forth and Hadrian’s Wall and would have been extremely vulnerable to attack by the northern tribes.