Ancient Pictish Hillfort Unearthed In Scotland Helps Kill Dogma
Archaeologists digging at an ancient Pictish hillfort, near Dunkeld in Scotland, prove it was an important power center for an elite class.
The 7th to 9th century King's Seat Hillfort, “the Fort Of The Caledonians” has been excavated in a three year fieldwork project, which discovered evidence of metal and textile production, glass beads, gaming pieces and pottery, and it is thought the Picts, who inhabited the site, enjoyed trade links with continental Europe.
Excavation of an Ancient Pictish Hillfort
According to Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT.org), King's Seat Hillfort is situated on a prominent hill top above an important bend in the River Tay at Dunkeld, overlooking Strath Tay to the north and south. While the fort has been known about for at least the last century, only basic plans of the surviving earthworks have been made and no previous archaeological investigations have ever taken place, until now.
Archaeologists at King's Seat Hillfort last year. (Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust)
The archaeological project was conducted by PKHT, Dunkeld & Birnam Historical Society and AOC Archaeology Ltd with around 30 community volunteers, secondary school pupils from Pitlochry High School and students on archaeological fieldwork training from the University of the Highlands and Islands. These new results from the King’s Seat dig follow the trust’s successful five-year project in Glen Shee, studying a prosperous Pictish farming community dating to the late 6th century to the mid-9th century.
Possibly A Royal Site?
According to The Scotsman, a new report on last year's excavations said the archaeologist’s “wealth of finds” indicate it was a stronghold of an elite family who dominated the local population exerting influence over the trade and controlled production of “high-status goods.” The archaeologists said their finds matched other high-status, royal sites of early Scotland including the Dalriadic capital of Dunadd in Argyll and the Pictish royal center of Dundurn near St Fillans by Loch Earn.
Left: A decorated spindle whorl, which was used in textile production. Middle: A fragment of Anglo-Saxon drinking vessel. Right: Another fragment found at the hillfort. (AOC Archaeology Ltd)
Expectations that the King's Seat Hillfort was a center of Pictish elites were reinforced by the discovery of ”E-ware ceramic finds,” which had been imported from the continent. Additionally, Anglo-Saxon glass beads, which were identified by Dr Ewan Campbell of the University of Glasgow, indicating the Picts were trading with continental Europe.
As well as evidence of metal-working, spindle whorls used in textile production were found and the director of PKHT, David Strachan, told The BBC the researchers have uncovered “lots of evidence” of day to day life and working conditions, the remains of a building with a large hearth, fragments of glass drinking vessels, gaming pieces and fragments of animal bones and horns.
Strachan said the artifacts painted “a vivid picture of high-status people gathering and feasting” decorated in the latest high-status jewelry and ornamentation. While Cath MacIver, of AOC Archaeology, said in the BBC article that crucibles, whetstones, stone and clay molds found confirmed craft production occurred at the hillfort. What was particularly interesting, according to MacIver, was that evidence of production was found in all of the excavated trenches meaning a lot of iron and other metal working went on and the site was “not just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use.”
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Realigning The Picts
On a broader archaeological perspective these new finds help to kill the dogmatic traditional view that the Picts of northern Scotland, who existed in the latter half of the first millennium AD, have long been regarded as primitive full-body tattooed savages who fought off Rome's legions before disappearing from history under the weight of Christianity.
But while these people might indeed have been wild tribesmen, they were far from ‘primitive’ and this new report adds to the stack of recent discoveries of Pictish carved stones and religious structures, which all determine the Picts were a highly sophisticated culture surpassing their Anglo-Saxon foes in many aspects.
Only last September I wrote an Ancient Origins article, what was tagged as “one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Scotland for 30 years,” when a Pictish monastery was found at Portmahomack on the Tarbat peninsula in Easter Ross. Not only did archaeologists discover an extensive 6th century Pictish monastic settlement, but surrounding this magnificent building were hundreds of fragments of elaborate Pictish symbol stones, testimony to the highly-developed religious culture of these Northern people.
Top image: Left: Archaeologists at the Pictish King's Seat Hillfort last year. Right top: A fragment of Anglo-Saxon drinking vessel. Right bottom: A decorated spindle whorl, which was used in textile production. Source: AOC Archaeology Ltd / Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust
By Ashley Cowie