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Sheriffside - An Iron Age Hillfort on the Edge of Empire

Location: Gifford, East Lothian, United Kingdom

July 6, 2015 to July 17, 2015

Application Deadline: 
Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Deadline Type: 

Program Type

Field school

RPA certified



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.

A further larger scale excavation in 2014 found another massive ditch of similar dimensions and depth and evidence for 5 separate pallisades constructed over approximately a 900 year period.

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 ditches at Sheriffside were 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 Hadrian’s 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 for 2015, when we will be investigating the southern portion of the hillfort, where we found a possible hut platform in 2010 cut into the slope of the hill. We also hope to investigate whether the two massive ditches which we found at the northern side continue to the south.

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

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

Iron Age, Scotland, Votadini, Great Barbarian Conspiracy

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: Full period

Minimum age: 

Experience required: 

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.

£750 sterling

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered: none


Contact Information
Murray Cook
6A Gladstone Place
Scotland, United Kingdom