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Sheriffside Iron Age Hillfort

Location: Gifford, East Lothian, United Kingdom

July 7, 2014 to July 18, 2014

Application Deadline: 
Monday, July 7, 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.

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.


  1. Excavation was undertaken by hand and according to standard Connolly Heritage Consultancy procedures.  One trench measuring 10m x 2.5 m was placed within the project area and excavated down to basal structures of the wash house. A sondage was opened at the north western portion of the trench in order to try and locate the remains of the house known as Nungate Brig-end. This area was out with the remains of the wash house.


  1. A full record was maintained throughout the project, including photographic, drawn and written.


  1. At the close of the excavation, the trench was backfilled and the turf re-instated.



Period(s) of Occupation: Iron Age

Celtic Iron Age Scotland learn archaeological skills

Project size: 
1-24 participants

Minimum Length of Stay for Volunteers: 10 days

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.

£695 sterling

Academic Credit

Number of credits offered: none


Contact Information
Murray Cook
6A Gladstone Place
United Kingdom