Broxmouth fort’s hidden gems

Broxmouth dig
Broxmouth dig

Archaeologists have identified examples of the earliest use of steel in the British Isles from an Iron Age site near Dunbar.

The hill fort known as Broxmouth was excavated in the 1970s, however the discoveries are only now being published.

As part of the re-examination of the findings, new analysis of some iron artefacts has found that they can be dated to 490-375BC. Made from high-carbon steel which had been deliberately heated and quenched in water, the artefacts are the earliest evidence of sophisticated blacksmithing skills in Britain.

Experts are heralding the discovery as particularly significant for the insight it offers into not only the early development of such advanced manufacturing skills but what it may tell us about social organisation at this time.

Technical skills at this level would only be achievable by specialist metalworkers who devoted their lives to perfecting and developing their craft – some might say the first example of a Scottish ‘knowledge economy’.

One of the most comprehensive excavations of any Iron Age hill fort in Britain, a generation of Scottish archaeologists learned their trade at Broxmouth. The near-total excavation of the site marked one of the first major rescue projects in Scotland but now it is now entirely gone, with a cement works in its place.

In 2008 a new project was set up at the University of Bradford to write up the findings of the excavation.

Published this month by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and funded by Historic Scotland and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, An Inherited Place: Broxmouth Hillfort and the South-East Scottish Iron Age by Ian Armit and Jo McKenzie sets out the full results of the Broxmouth project for the first time.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, said: “Broxmouth has a special place in the history of Scottish archaeology.