Sheriffside - An Iron Age Hillfort on the Edge of Empire
Drawing features
Keyhole trenching in 2011 discovered large ditch

Location: Gifford, East Lothian, United Kingdom

Season Dates: July 7, 2014 - July 18, 2014
Application Deadline: July 1, 2014


Program Type
Field school

Affiliation: Rampart Scotland

Project Director: Murray Cook and David Connolly

Project Description

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 pastureland and measuring over 150m in diameter.
Initial trial excavations in 2010 and 2012 showed that the site was a complex hillfort, containing a series of ditches, banks and palisades spanning nearly 1000 years between 600BC and 400AD. Its position on the end of a ridge near the East Lothian village of Gifford offers a 360 degree panorama taking in landmarks such as the Lammermuir hills to the south, Pentland hils to the west and the Kingdom of Fife to the north.

The function of this site will have changed over a millennium of activity and we will 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 Hadrians 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 Hadrians Wall and would have been extremely vulnerable to attack by the northern tribes.

Join us and help uncover Sheriffsides story.

Students and volunteers are welcome to join us on the largest season of work on this project.

We welcome people from any background and any level of experience from beginner onwards.

Aims for 2014:

    To further explore the purpose of the massive ditch.
    Start to build up a chronology for occupation.
    Attempt to uncover the entrance or entrances.
    Learn more about the defences.

We hope to uncover a 20 m x 20 m section of the site, taking in ditches, banks and parts of the interior to gather both stratigraphic data and charcoal for c14 dating analysis.

There will be optional visits to the site of a Neolithic house, ruins of 14th century Hailes Castle (owned by Earl Bothwell, the third husband of Mary Queen of Scots) and the Romano-British fort at Traprain Law, stronghold of the Iron Age Votadini tribe.

Period(s) of Occupation: Iron Age

Project Size: 1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Full period

Minimum Age: 17

Experience Required: None

Room and Board Arrangements

Included in the price is comfortable bunkhouse accommodation (seperate male and female dorms) with hot showers and kitchen plus all meals during the field school.
Please bring a sleeping bag.

Cost: £695 sterling

Academic Credit
Number of credits offered: none

Contact Information
Murray Cook
6A Gladstone Place
Stirling, FK8 2NN
Scotland, United Kingdom
Fax: 07929848145

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