Scottish industrial history could have sparked prehistoric economy, say archaeologists

By Ben Miller | 15 January 2014

New findings at one of Scotland's most important archaeological sites suggest Iron Age industries may have been impressively advanced

An overhead photo of a green and brown archaeological site full of geological details
An aerial photograph of the excavation at Broxmouth, in East Lothian, taken before the site was covered over. New research on the site suggests an advanced industrial society may have existed in Scotland around 2,500 years ago© The Broxmouth Project
Scotland’s industrial roots may have been forged by sophisticated blacksmiths as long ago as 490BC, according to new research on Broxmouth, the prehistoric settlement of roundhouses, elaborate hill fort entrances and an exceptionally rare Iron Age cemetery.

A photo of a drawing of a series of tent settlements dating from prehistoric times
A reconstruction drawing of the Broxmouth settlement© The Broxmouth Project
Originally excavated during the 1970s, the artefacts from the East Lothian site are being reappraised following a six-year investigation by experts at the University of Bradford, backed by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Historic Scotland and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

They say that the high-carbon steel remains, which had been heated and quenched in water, point to a wider community productivity line and the beginnings of steel manufacturing in Scotland.

“The process of manufacturing steel requires extensive knowledge, skill and craftsmanship,” explains Dr Gerry McDonnell, an expert in archaeological metals who was part of the team working on land occupied for at least 1,000 years, only being abandoned during the Roman occupation.

“It is far from straightforward, which is why such an early example of its production tells us so much about the people who once occupied this hill fort.

A photo of a group of people sitting and standing on top of a mountain in warm clothing
The original xcavation team at Broxmouth. Many senior figures in Scottish archaeology learned their trade on the site© The Broxmouth Project
“It points to an advanced, organised community where complex skills were refined and passed on.

"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'.
"Such specialisation could only have happened with the practical support of the wider community at Broxmouth and beyond.
"It is a poignant start to the story of iron and steel manufacture in Scotland."

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

You might also like:

Archaeologists find flint Iron Age tools and blades under Surrey fire station site

Curator's Choice: Dr Nigel Melton on Gristhorpe Man

Aberdeen archaeologists rescue 700-year-old Yup'ik "melting village" in Quinhagak, Alaska
Latest comment: >Make a comment
The Sri Lankans were producing steel at about the same time using high speed winds in the upper peaks to give the required temperatures. This steel was used to produce Damascus steel swords. Could the Picts (or whoever was in Lothian at the time) have used the same methods?
>See all comments
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.