More than 100 Iron Age settlements identified north of Hadrian’s Wall

The new discoveries include a number of small farmsteads and Iron Age enclosures.

A research project exploring the impact of Roman rule on indigenous life beyond Hadrian’s Wall has led to the discovery of 134 previously unknown Iron Age settlements.

Built in AD 122 and stretching from the North Sea to the Solway Firth, Hadrian’s Wall marked the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. The border was expanded a further 100 miles north in AD 142 – across what is now central Scotland – with the construction of the Antonine Wall. This fortification, however, was abandoned just a couple of decades years later and the frontier line moved back to Hadrian’s Wall.

Map A (left) shows known and newly identified sites. Map B (top right) shows the overall area surveyed between the Roman walls. Map C (bottom right) shows coverage by an earlier survey.
IMAGE: Fernández-Götz et al., 2022/Antiquity Publications Ltd.

Previous studies have focused largely upon the frontiers of the Roman Empire, as well as the rich archaeological record of Roman roads, forts, and military camps in northern Britain.

Now, a project titled Beyond Walls: Reassessing Iron Age and Roman Encounters in Northern Britain, led by Dr Manuel Fernández-Götz from the University of Edinburgh and funded by the Leverhulme Trust, is exploring the impact of Roman occupation on settlement patterns and indigenous communities spanning from the area around Durham (up to 40km south of Hadrian’s Wall) to the southern Scottish Highlands (around 40km north of the Antonine Wall).

‘This is one of the most exciting regions of the Empire,’ said Dr Fernández-Götz, ‘as it represented its northernmost frontier, and also because Scotland was one of very few areas in Western Europe over which the Roman army never managed to establish full control.’

During a pilot study funded by the British Academy, the results of which have been published today in Antiquity, the team studied high-resolution LiDAR data collected across a 1500km² area around Burnswark hillfort.

Two small, previously unknown Iron Age enclosures were discovered through LiDAR-based survey close to Range Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, which has been documented since the 19th century.
IMAGE: Fernández-Götz et al., 2022/Antiquity Publications Ltd, contains information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0; lidar for Scotland Phase III DTM).

They identified 704 definite, probable, or possible Iron Age settlements, 134 of which were previously unknown. The new discoveries include several Iron Age enclosures situated in Dumfries and Galloway – two near Range Castle and another at Beattock – and a number of small farmsteads.

The project funding has also allowed the researchers to apply radiocarbon dating techniques at Burnswark hillfort and the sequence of Roman camps situated in direct view of the site. These were found to range from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD.

The Leverhulme-funded research project is set to continue until August 2024.