Samian ware and E ware sherds from Trusty's Hill
Alongside the evidence for high status craft working at Trusty’s Hill in the late sixth century AD, the 2012 excavations recovered two sherds of imported pottery – both from France – one a sherd of Roman samian ware and the other a later Merovingian sherd of E ware. Each sherd provides an echo of the status, identity and connectedness of the early medieval household at Trusty’s Hill.
Samian Sherd Find
The Roman pottery sherd is part of a rim of a samian bowl, a type of expensive tableware dating to the second century AD. However, this was the only artefact from Trusty’s Hill dated to this period. Since the stratified context from which this was picked up – a layer of dark soil abutting the interior side of the rampart on the western side of the summit – yielded a calibrated radiocarbon date of AD 533-643, the deposition of this sherd clearly did not take place until at least the sixth century AD. The presence of a Roman pottery sherd in an early medieval context is not uncommon though, with Roman objects also being found at sites like the Mote of Mark and Dumbarton Rock. The samian sherd from the Mote of Mark is in fact quite a close example to Trusty’s Hill. It is similarly rubbed down on one side and both were very likely used as sources for jeweller’s rouge for polishing metalwork. The Roman pottery sherds from Trusty’s Hill and the Mote of Mark indicate active efforts by the Britons of the sixth century AD to import Roman pottery from elsewhere and reuse these in craft working on site.
The only other pottery sherd from the 2012 excavations, from an imported E ware pot from the Loire region of France, is a prime indicator of the status of the early medieval household of Trusty’s Hill. This single E ware sherd (albeit from excavation of only 1% of the site) suggests that the household here was part of an elite redistribution network that linked high status secular and ecclesiastical communities of Western Britain and Ireland with the Continent during the sixth and seventh centuries AD. Membership of this network allowed for the exchange of local goods for exotic imports (it was not the E ware pottery that was important but what the E ware pots contained). Perhaps more importantly for the society of the time, this enabled the gifting of these imports to kinsmen, friends and followers. While the evidence as it stands does not directly implicate Trusty’s Hill as an importation centre, key characteristics of the site (labour intensive defences, high status metalworking and metalwork itself) place the E ware sherd here in the same context as royal centres such as Dunadd, Dumbarton Rock and Dinas Powys. The single E ware sherd connects Trusty’s Hill with a continental trade that seems to have specifically targeted the north Solway Coast with large assemblages recovered from the large scale excavations at Whithorn and the Mote of Mark (in contrast to the absence of such imports in northern Wales, Cumbria and Lancashire). Gaulish merchants were clearly making a beeline for Galloway during the sixth and early seventh centuries AD, but what they were acquiring in return remains a mystery.
E Ware Distribution map
One of the apparently more mundane artefacts recovered from the summit of Trusty’s Hill was a small lead bar. Some hammer-marks are visible on the surface from shaping it. This was probably an ingot of raw material for use in the production of leaded bronze metalwork at the workshop here.
The lead ingot was subjected to lead isotope analysis to assess where the lead originated. As the diagram below shows, the lead bar from Trusty’s Hill plots very close to the lead isotope signature from lead beads recovered from the Iron Age promontory fort at Carghidown in the Machars of Galloway, as well as lead from the lead hills in the southern uplands of Scotland. Furthermore, seen in comparison with the lead isotope plots from two fragments of Iron Age / Early Medieval lead slag from Cass ny Hawin on the Isle of Man, the results demonstrate the likelihood of a southern uplands origin for the lead used in the Trusty’s Hill lead ingot.
What this evidence indicates is that local communities were mining lead from the southern uplands of Scotland in the pre-Roman Iron Age and the post-Roman periods (ie entirely independent of the Romans). The lead ingot from Trusty’s Hill also indicates that organised lead mining somewhere in the southern uplands was linked, either by direct control or through trade or patronage, to the household at Trusty’s Hill. The production of a lead ingot implies either an agreed standard of weight or size, or a ‘to order’ quantity of lead to form a stock of raw material, for the production of leaded bronze objects. A similar process is also likely for other raw materials brought to this site.
copper-alloy horse mount
Further analysis of the Anglo-Saxon decorated horse mount reveals even more information about how it may have been acquired by the inhabitants of Trusty’s Hill. X-Ray Fluorescence analysis of the mount shows that it comprised of leaded brass with a higher concentration of zinc than found in either the crucibles or moulds from Trusty’s Hill. Leaded brass is more common in Anglo-Saxon England where Roman bronze objects (which were commonly composed of leaded brass) were melted down as a source material for metalworking. Despite the proximity of Trusty’s Hill to the Irish Sea trade networks that could have brought scrap metal to the site, the high lead contents in the crucibles and the lead ingot recovered from the site suggests that the craftsmen here were not re-casting either Roman or Anglo-Saxon metal, but using other sources to produce ornaments of leaded bronze not leaded brass. It seems unlikely therefore that the Trusty’s Hill mount was produced at the workshop at this site.
The Trusty’s Hill mount may have come to the site as part of a complete horse bridle or as an object already removed. There are various explanations: it could have been a gift to the household at Trusty’s Hill, it may have been traded to the smiths here or it may have been looted from a battlefield. Given the damage to the mount, that its gilded and silvered finish has been removed and that there is little other evidence for trade in scrap metal, the last explanation seems perhaps the most likely.
thistle-headed iron pin
Along with the evidence for gold, silver, leaded bronze and iron working, Trusty’s Hill also produced a small but impressive assemblage of metal artefacts. The high quality of the ironwork assemblage in particular, especially given the small scale of excavations, is a good indication of the importance of the settlement here around AD 600.
Two of the metal artefacts really stood out.
The first was a decorative iron pin, recovered from the east side of the summit. It is of early medieval type and is a finely crafted thistle-headed pin. X-rays showed that there were traces of copper alloy inlay within the incised decoration. Decorated iron pins are rare, probably due to the difficulty in decorating iron compared to copper alloy or bone/ antler, which were easier to either cast or carve into intricate shapes. Hammering this small object into such a fine shape, incising the decoration and inlaying the copper alloy required an immense amount of skill as a metalworker and the owner of such an object is likely to have been of a high status. Thistle-headed pins can be paralleled elsewhere in Dumfries and Galloway, in bone from Tynron Doon and in a mould fragment for a copper alloy pin from the Mote of Mark. It is the rare choice of material, iron, which makes the Trusty’s Hill pin particularly special. The only comparably decorated iron pin from Scotland is a drum-headed pin from Howe in Orkney, which has copper alloy inlays on the head and incised decorative bands with inlays around the swollen shank. This form of pin has traditionally been dated on stylistic grounds to no earlier than the seventh century AD, though the Howe pin is from a context dating to between the fourth and seventh centuries AD, suggesting a longer currency.
The other impressive metal artefact was a circular copper-alloy mount, also recovered from the eastern side of the summit. It is decorated with Germanic style birds’ heads arranged around a central boss, with organic remains preserved on the reverse around three copper-alloy lugs, and can be dated to the late sixth to early seventh century AD on stylistic grounds. X-ray fluorescence analysis detected gold and silver on the front of this object, which was probably from a horse harness.
These two artefacts corroborate the radiocarbon dating evidence for occupation of the site around AD 600, and reveal that the inhabitants of Trusty’s Hill included people who had a considerable measure of wealth and sophisticated taste for expensive jewellery with which to ornament not just their own personal appearance but their horses as well.
copper-alloy horse mount
crucible fragments from Trusty's Hill
Alongside the evidence for ironworking, there was a variety of debris associated with non-ferrous metalworking recovered from Trusty’s Hill. XRF analysis of crucible fragments demonstrate that copper, tin, lead and silver were worked. It is notable that a high proportion of the crucibles show a combination of copper, tin and lead, suggesting the production of leaded bronze objects. The very small size of the crucibles indicates that it was very fine objects that were being created. This is supported by the identification of gold and silver on a heating-tray fragment, and three clay mould fragments. These yielded traces of copper, zinc and lead indicating that all three had been used to cast copper-alloy objects. Most likely these were pins and jewellery given the comparisons one can draw between the Trusty’s Hill clay moulds and clay moulds from other sites like the Mote of Mark and Dunadd.
This evidence for the production of fine metalwork, and not simply the mending of objects, is particularly significant to understanding the status of the inhabitants of Trusty’s Hill around AD 600. By instigating and controlling craft production, the inhabitants here had the power of patronage. Early medieval Scotland was a non-monetary economy so the control of production of high status objects was used to tie individuals into wider socio-political relations. In other words, a chieftain or king who could produce fine objects could attract and gather a large following of clients, who in return for his largesse owed him service. With the increased martial power that might come with a larger following of armed supporters and clients, a leader might acquire more resources with which to attract further clients and followers.
clay mould fragments from Trusty's Hill
This pock-marked stone poking out of the rubble collapse of the rampart on the west side of Trusty’s Hill turned out to be an anvil stone, one of a number of finds examined during specialist post-excavation analysis that demonstrate that iron metalworking was carried out here back in the sixth century AD.
The early ironworking process can be split into two basic stages; smelting and blacksmithing. Smelting involves heating ore in a furnace to produce a bloom of iron, while the blacksmith heats and hammers the iron into an artefact. Smelting slag was recovered from the occupation deposits on the east side of the summit of Trusty’s Hill. Its amorphous shape suggests it was raked out of the furnace whilst still hot and soft, rather than being left to accumulate in the base.
One smithing hearth base was also recovered from this part of the site. Smithing hearth bases are plano-convex accumulations of iron smithing slag which form in the hearth as the iron is moved in and out of the hearth.
Small magnetic flakes of hammerscale become dislodged from the iron’s surface during the hammering and as such are diagnostic of blacksmithing. Trusty’s Hill produced very small quantities of hammerscale but with no obvious concentration indicating the focus of activity.
As is normal for ironworking assemblages, many of the pieces are small and fragmentary iron slag, but a quantity was recovered from the eastern side of the hill.
Though the ironworking assemblage from Trusty’s Hill was small (but then only a relatively small area – c. 1% – of the site was excavated), it provides a valuable glimpse of craft activity during the early medieval period, and demonstrates that repeated blacksmithing as well as smelting (which is much rarer amongst early medieval sites) took place here.
Inspired and intrigued by Chris Bowles’ talk about Trusty’s Hill at the Scotland in Early Medieval Europe Conference back in February 2013, Richard Strathie went to have a look at the site. We thought the aerial photographs he took of Trusty’s Hill might be of interest, particularly as they show how Trusty’s Hill lies within the surrounding landscape:
The summary results of the excavation of Trusty’s Hill was published recently in the latest volume of the Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (Volume 87, 2013). This report is intended simply as an interim report, in advance of a book reporting the full analyses and results, to be published by Oxbow Books next year. But it sets out a summary of the findings from the 2012 fieldwork, in particular why we think there is now a compelling case for locating the core of the elusive kingdom of Rheged in Galloway. This is based on the accumulating archaeological evidence emerging from Galloway for a kingdom without an historical record in a blank part of the map of Dark Age Britain, where Rheged, an historical kingdom without an archaeological record, has long been considered but never proven to be somewhere located. Offprint copies of this summary report are being distributed to the many volunteers and supporters who helped the Galloway Picts Project recover so much archaeological evidence.
If you can’t get hold of the latest volume of the Transactions, then tune into S4C at 20:25 on Wednesday 10 September, where the case is made (in English!) on the Darn Bach o Hanes programme examining Yr Hen Ogledd (The Old North).
Hard copies of Transactions of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society (Volume 87, 2013)
Revisited Trusty’s Hill recently with Welsh TV company Cwmni Da, who were making a programme on the ‘Old North’ for the S4C series Darn Bach o Hanes (A little Piece of History). With the fantastic summer weather, the site is looking a little overgrown! Would never have guessed we had opened up a few trenches here, which is probably a good sign that our excavation resulted in no damage to the site. Cwmni Da’s presenter, Dewi Prysor, made a herculean effort to climb the hill, due to his recently broken ankle. But I think he was glad he made it once he had reached the Pictish Carved Stone and heard and seen the evidence for why the elusive Dark Age kingdom of Rheged can now be fixed to the ground somewhere for the first time, that is in Galloway. Look out for the programme on S4C in the Autumn!
Cwmni Da TV filming at Trusty's Hill
Cwmni Da TV filming at Trusty's Hill
Cwmni Da TV filming at Trusty's Hill
Trusty’s Hill has once again been at the fore in Gatehouse recently. Following Stuart McHardy’s talk on the Pictish Carvings at Trusty’s Hill in the Faed Gallery during the Big Lit Festival on 18 May, the Ayrshire Archaeological and Natural History Society visited the town on an outing on 24 May. After visiting the new exhibition at the Mill, local guides took the Ayrshire Archaeological Society members on a guided tour of Trusty’s Hill. Shortly after, on 28 May, 21 delegates from nine EU countries, who were taking part in a Grundtvig Life Long Learning project called Rural Heritage Promoter, were hosted by the Mill on the Fleet Museum, where the Gatehouse Development Initiative used the Trusty’s Hill projects as an example of good practice in making local people ambassadors for their local heritage.
Stuart McHardy's Talk on 18 May
Guided Tour of Trusty's Hill 24 May
European Rural Heritage Promoter Meeting at the Mill on the Fleet 28 May