East Lothian's Broxmouth fort reveals edge of steel
- 15 January 2014
- From the section Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland
Archaeologists have identified the earliest use of steel in the British Isles from a site in East Lothian.
They now believe artifacts recovered from the site of the Broxmouth Iron Age hill fort were made from high-carbon steel.
This would have been deliberately heated and quenched in water, indicating "sophisticated blacksmithing skills".
The steel objects were manufactured in the years 490-375BC.
Because of their condition, it has not been possible to say definitively if the objects were tools, weapons, or served some other purpose.
The Broxmouth site was in use from the Iron Age until the period of Roman occupation, nearly 1,000 years later.
The near-total excavation of the area in the 1970s means it is almost entirely gone, with a cement works in its place.
The new research was carried out on objects recovered at that time.
Well-preserved roundhouses, elaborate hill fort entrances and an exceptionally rare Iron Age cemetery were among the discoveries made at the site.
A generation of Scottish archaeologists learned their trade at Broxmouth, which became one of the most comprehensive excavations of any Iron Age hill fort in Britain.
In 2008, a new project was set up at the University of Bradford to write up the findings of the excavation.
It has now been published by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Dr Gerry McDonnell, an expert in archaeological metals and a specialist involved in the project, said: "The process of manufacturing steel requires extensive knowledge, skill and craftsmanship.
"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.
"It points to an advanced, organised community where complex skills were refined and passed on."
Cabinet Secretary for Culture Fiona Hyslop said: "Broxmouth has a special place in the history of Scottish archaeology, and of the many interesting discoveries to come out of it, evidence of the earliest use of steel in Britain is particularly exciting.
"The manufacture of steel is a complex and skilled process."