The King's Seat hillfort is situated on a prominent hill top above an important bend in the River Tay at Dunkeld. It has a dominating position overlooking Strath Tay, and while the fort has been known about for at least the last century, and is designated as nationally important, little is actually understood about it. How old is it? How did it develop? Did people live there and what was it used for? Only basic plans of the surviving earthworks have been made and no previous archaeological investigations have ever taken place.
Working in partnership with the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society, and with the help of AOC Archaeology, this project aims to celebrate the site and explore the site with members of the local community. Over three years, volunteers have joined professional archaeologists to survey and excavate the site. The project aims to publish findings and incorporate the information into outreach material that will interpret the site and its story to the local community and visitors.
We returned for the third and final season of project excavations at King's Seat in September 2019 and had a great team of community volunteers helping to dig in to their heritage. 30 people from the local community and further afield, many returning from the previous two seasons, were joined by University Students on assessed archaeological fieldwork training, secondary school pupils from Pitlochry High School and numerous other daily visitors.
The three seasons of fieldwork have unearthed an amazing selection of early historic artefacts and radio carbon dated features suggesting that King's Seat was an important centre of local power with influence over the trade and production of high status goods in the early historic/Pictish period (c.600-900 AD).
Over the three years of excavation we have uncovered lots of evidence of domestic activity. Hearths have been found on the upper citadel and the western terrace and the finds suggest there was possibly feasting within one of the large buildings - large number of animal bones, teeth and horn fragments as well as fragments of a glass drinking vessel and gaming pieces.
In addition, spindle whorls have been found plus extensive remains of both iron and precious metal working activity. The crucibles, stone and clay moulds and whetstones indicate craft production has taken place and what is particularly interesting is that this activity has been found everywhere we have excavated. This suggests that the iron and precious metal working was fairly extensive and the site was therefore a centre for production rather than just the home of a small group of people making items for their own use.
Evidence that this site was an important place are reinforced by some E-ware ceramic finds imported from the Continent and Anglo-Saxon glass beads (identified by Dr Ewan Campbell, University of Glasgow). These finds indicate wide ranging trading links existed with Europe.
The artefacts uncovered are in keeping with other high-status or royal sites that have been dated to the early historic period including Dunadd, Dundurn, Mote of Mark and Buiston crannog with the radiocarbon dates indicating 7th-8th century AD activity. We are eagerly awaiting further dating evidence from samples taken in 2019 and look forward to sharing the results when they become available.
This project is a partnership between Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) and the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society with AOC Archaeology Ltd as archaeological contractors.
Picts in the Park was a celebration of Dunkeld’s early historic heritage, the town’s namesake hillfort and the community project that’s revealing so much about Dunkeld’s Pictish origins. From 11:00 until 15:00 Stanley Park echoed with the clash of shields and the sounds of Pictish industry as re-enactors from Regia Anglorum took attendees back in time to the early historic period with technology and weapons demonstrations.
From the energy of the combat arena to the tranquillity of the storytelling tent, there was much to be enjoyed for all ages as visitors got to grips with traditional skills such as metal casting and smithing, leatherworking, timber construction and stone carving, all inspired by the remarkable archaeological discoveries being made on the hillfort. For those keen to see the site itself there were minibus tours. For the less adventurous, talks hosted by project archaeologists from Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust and AOC Archaeology Group were offered in the Duchess Anne Hall. If this wasn’t enough, placename expert Dr Peter McNiven was on hand in Dunkeld Community Archives to explain the fascinating meanings behind many local place names, the tales behind which were brought to life by captivating storyteller Owen Pilgrim.
The event was opened by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust patron Dougie MacLean with the mixed weather doing little to discourage over 600 people from attending throughout the day.
Have a look at the photo gallery on the left side bar for a snapshot of the day. All images taken by the talented Bart Masiukiewicz.
The project dig diary is the place to see read the latest happenings and see photos of discoveries from the dig. Click and scroll your way through Dunkeld's exciting early historic heritage as it's uncovered as this amazing project moves forward.
Due to changes in the privacy settings of our news page provider to comply with the General Data Protection Regulation, we are unable to embed the project blog on our website. We apologise for this inconvenience. To view the King's Seat dig diary, click on the image above or visit: https://kingseatarchaeology.tumblr.com/
The name King's Seat comes from Scots English and was likely named after King William the Lion of Scotland (1165-1214 AD) visited Dunkeld and used the hill as a deer hunting vantage point.
The name Dunkeld derives from the Scottish Gaelic word dùn meaning hillfort and Cailleann meaning Caledonians (the name associated with the native people living in this area, first mentioned by Roman authors c.200 AD).
As part of the project, a place-name survey was commissioned to unlock more of King's Seat's history and Dunkeld's early origins from the names of natural and man-made features. Check out the report below to find out more.