Burning Matters: the Rise and Fall of an Early Medieval Fortified Centre. A New Chronology for Clatchard Craig

Gordon Noble* (Corresponding Author), Nick Evans, Martin Goldberg, Derek Hamilton

*Corresponding author for this work

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2 Citations (Scopus)
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ONE OF the most significant developments in early medieval northern Britain was the reemergence of fortified enclosures and settlements. As in western England and Wales, the fort rather than the hall formed the most prominent material manifestation of power of an elite and their client group. While fortified sites dominate our knowledge of the form that central places of power and governance took in the early medieval period in northern Britain, our historical sources reveal little about the character, longevity and lifespan of many of these important nodes of power and archaeological investigation has also tended to be limited. Hence only a handful of fortified sites in northern Britain provide well dated and investigated sequences for these critical sites for understanding the character of post-Roman society in the north. As part of the Leverhulme Trust-funded Comparative Kingship project a suite of new radiocarbon dates were produced using archived material from excavations at the now destroyed early medieval hillfort of Clatchard Craig (NO 2435 1780) in Fife, eastern Scotland, one of the most complex early medieval forts known. Some 35 years ago CloseBrooks (1986) oversaw the publication of a report on the hillfort based on excavations which had occurred more than two decades earlier in response to the quarrying of this multivallate hillfort. Due to the imprecision and scarcity of radiocarbon dating a broad 6th to 8th+ century AD chronology for the defences and occupation of the interior was obtained. With higher precision AMS dates and a new Bayesian model a much tighter sequence of dating has been produced suggesting the development and destruction of the monumentally enclosed phase of the site centred on a much shorter period in the 7th century AD. The new chronology for the site, which suggests the fort was constructed and destroyed within a few generations at most, has important implications for the role of fortifications and the character of warfare in early medieval society. The burning of the fort suggests a catastrophic and rapid end to a site that is likely to have been constructed by the Pictish elite. The fort may have been a victim of the tumultuous events of the latter half of the 7th century when southern Pictland came under Anglo-Saxon control before being wrested back into Pictish overkingship in the aftermath of the Battle of Nechtanesmere of AD 685.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)266-303
Number of pages38
JournalMedieval Archaeology
Issue number2
Early online date16 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2022
EventRecent Archaeological work in Tayside and Fife 2021 - Online event, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Nov 20217 Nov 2021

Bibliographical note

This article is dedicated to the work of Roy Ritchie, Richard Hope-Simpson and Joanna Close-Brooks who rescued important information and material in less than ideal circumstances from which this re-interpretation of the sequence at Clatchard Craig has been made possible. Thanks to the colleagues who gave advice and support for the re-dating programme: Edouard Masson-Maclean identified the animal bone samples to species and Zena Timmons and Jerry Herman from the Natural Sciences department, National Museums Scotland, arranged access for sampling. Derek Hamilton undertook the sampling at SUERC.
Stratford Halliday and Joanna Close-Brooks read through early drafts of the article and provided many insightful and useful comments. The writing of this article, the radiocarbon dating and additional costs was supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Leadership Award (RL-2016-069).


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