It remains one of the biggest archaeological mysteries: why do so many hillforts, particularly across Scotland, appear to have undergone a significant burning event that caused their stone walls to melt and ultimately fuse (see CA 133)? Was it done deliberately, either during an attack or as a ceremonial act, or was it accidental? One of these ‘vitrified’ forts, Dun Deardail in Glen Nevis, was recently excavated over the course of a three-year project funded by Forestry Commission Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund as part of the Nevis Landscape Partnership. This Iron Age hillfort was built in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, around 2,500 years ago, and was eventually destroyed in a catastrophic fire. Now excavations have shed light on its construction, occupation, and destruction.
The Pictish carvings etched near the summit of Trusty’s Hill, a vitrified hillfort in Dumfries and Galloway, are as enigmatic as they are striking, located far to the south of where you would expect to find this kind of artwork. But how old are the carvings, are they even genuine, and what can archaeology tell […]
Legend has it that the Rothwell charnel chapel was discovered when a grave digger tumbled into an underground vault stacked with bones. This alarming incident brought to light a rare example of an intact medieval ossuary in England. Our cover feature explores why the dead were assembled in this manner, and how common the practice was. […]
Neolithic tombs are often seen as ‘houses for the dead’. Striking similarities between the residences of the living and repositories for the deceased have long suggested a symbolic link, but could it be the other way round? Evidence from Orkney suggests that the departed were being laid to rest in their cairns for about 300 […]
Listen to John Reid, author of our cover feature Bullets, ballistas and Burnswark, discuss his research at Burnswark Hill on Radio 4’s Today (2 June 2016). The hill in Dumfriesshire is home to a 17-acre native hillfort held in a vice-like grip by two Roman camps. This configuration of Roman camps straddling a hillfort is unique in Britain, and attempts to […]
The true nature of the events that played out at Burnswark in the 2nd century AD has long excited speculation. Two Roman camps were aggressively positioned to hold a former native hillfort in a vice-like grip, but does this dramatic arrangement testify to a desperate siege, or a rigorous military training regime? Now an ingenious new approach to studying the […]
A Roman assault on a hillfort in Scotland The ancient author Josephus once observed of the Roman military that ‘their training manoeuvres are battles without bloodshed, and their battles manoeuvres with bloodshed’. The difficulty in distinguishing between these states is well illustrated by the residue from a Roman artillery barrage at Burnswark. Were they aiming […]