Iron Age village and metalworking site ‘destroyed after clash with Romans’ discovered in Scottish quarry

Archaeologists have found 25 Iron Age buildings at Lochinver Quarry near Elgin, including the remains of roundhouses, several iron furnaces and storage structures, with the industrial site being the first of its kind discovered.

Curiously, two cauldrons were found buried in the quarry – one inside the other – and it is thought that they could have been placed in a pit at the end of the first century AD to conceal the objects of value. Fires of wooden buildings on the site are also known to have occurred.

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Archaeologists have suggested that the burnings and burial of the ‘rare’ artefacts may have taken place around the time of the Battle of Mons Graupius, believed to have been fought in AD 83 or 84 between the Romans and the Caledonians and culminated to the victory of the invaders.

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A spokesman for Archaeological Research Services Ltd, who led the excavations, said: “Radiocarbon dating of their burial indicates that they were placed in the pit around the end of the first century AD, around at the same time of the Battle of Mons Graupius.

“Elsewhere on the site there is clear evidence of the various wooden buildings burning in situ. Taken together with the need to bury valuable assets such as cauldrons, this could potentially highlight the impact of the Roman invasion of Scotland under Agricola and its effect on local communities after the Battle of Mons Graupius – as described by the Roman writer Tacitus.

Tacitus was the son-in-law of Agricola, Governor of Britain from 77 to 83-84 AD. His account of Mons Graupius is the only written evidence of the battle, which has long been disputed.

Artist’s impression of the Battle of Mons Graupius, between the Romans and the Caledonians in 83 or 84 AD. The battle has been linked to an Iron Age village and a metalworking site discovered in a quarry near Elgin. Pic: YouTube.

He claimed that 30,000 Caledonians and supporting tribes fought 8,000 Romans, with only 360 of the invaders killed, Agricola leaving soon after the battle without any northward advance of the Roman line.

The exact location of the clash is not known, with Raedykes near Stonehaven, Bennachie near Inverurie and Gask Ridge among the possibilities raised over time.

Further analysis of the finds will now begin to reconstruct activity at the site.

The site of the Iron Age village and industrial metalworking site at Lochinver Quarry, near Elgin. PIC: Archaeological Research Service.

Dr Fraser Hunter, senior curator of Iron Age and Roman collections at the National Museums of Scotland, described the scale of metallurgical mining near Elgin as “absolutely remarkable”.

He said: “The exciting results of the Lochinver excavations will cause us to rethink our view of Iron Age industries. Iron was a fundamental raw material for tools and weapons, but its production on this scale is absolutely remarkable, far beyond what any colony would need. It seems that the first industrial revolution around the Moray Firth took place in the Iron Age.

A series of buildings are known to have covered the sites, some believed to be large workshops for metalworking activities.

A series of Bronze Age buildings were discovered earlier in the quarry, the site having probably been occupied in stages for over 2,000 years.

The finds were made during pre-mining surveys at the site, owned by Tarmac, with the archaeological survey assisted by Aberdeenshire Council.

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