Investigations at Lochinver Quarry, near Elgin in Moray, Scotland, have uncovered settlement remains spanning 3,000 years, including rare evidence of large-scale Iron Age metalworking.
Archaeological Research Services Ltd (ARS Ltd) has been excavating at the quarry since 2012, working for Tarmac ahead of sand and gravel extraction. In this time, the team has investigated 30ha of the site, unearthing evidence of settlements ranging in date from the Neolithic to the medieval period, though most features relate to the Bronze and Iron Age (c.1500 BC-AD 100).
So far, these excavations have revealed around 35 buildings. Many of these have been identified as Middle to Late Bronze Age roundhouses (c.1600 BC- 700 BC) and Iron Age round-houses (c.700 BC-AD 100). Some were made with upright timber planks, while others appear to have been built with posts and non-loadbearing wattle walls. Additional large buildings, possibly workshops, were identified on the site, along with associated domestic hearths, rubbish and storage pits, and several timber palisaded enclosures.
The site yielded remnants of numerous iron-smelting furnaces (above) – making it the largest Iron Age smelting site yet discovered in Scotland – as well as fired clay ‘pedestals’ that may have supported salt-making pans or perhaps more specialist metalworking activity.
Dr Clive Waddington of ARS Ltd told CA: ‘What really strikes me is the opportunity to understand the evolution of roundhouse forms, as well as gaining a unique insight into mass iron production in the late Iron Age.’
Other finds hint that Iron Age occupation may have come to an abrupt end. Across the site is evidence of burning of wooden buildings, and two metal cauldrons, radiocarbon dated to the late 1st century AD, were found buried together within a pit, possibly to hide these valuable objects. It is thought that the settlement was abandoned around this time – which would bring these events within range of the Battle of Mons Graupius, fought in AD 83 between the Romans and the Caledonians. In his book Agricola, Roman writer Tacitus claims that the invasion of Scotland culminated at ‘Mons Graupius’, whose precise location has never been established, though there is broad consensus it was in north-east Scotland.
‘If the ironworking remains turn out to be contemporary and date to the late 1st century AD,’ Clive added, ‘it may well link the site to the Roman invasion and possibly the Battle of Mons Graupius. That could shake up our understanding of the Roman impact on Brittonic communities in the far north of Britain.’
Watch this space for a fuller feature about this site.
TEXT: Florence Chilver