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The early Medieval period has often been referred to as the 'Dark Ages', associated with economic and cultural decline after the fall of the Roman Empire between the 5th and 11th centuries AD.

This is not entirely true - 

It was a time of considerable change which saw:

1. The arrival + withdrawal of the Romans

2. The spread of Christianity,

3. Viking raids

4. Norse settlement

5. Gradual consolidation of smaller kingdoms

6. And the formation of the Kingdom of Alba (Scotland).

The aim of this project is to understand ‘the important others’: the common lay and monastic communities – their economy, environmental impact and the resulting impact of social change relating to Roman incursions into NE Scotland, the spread of Christianity and changing political boundaries.

A number of sites (see map: Yellow= cores already taken or about to be taken; orange intended future locations) have been selected for investigation. These include a combination of Roman forts located beyond the northern frontier where native farming communities lived; native settlement sites further away from Roman forts; & early monastic sites.


The sediments from the selected sites will be radiocarbon dated and analysed for fossil pollen, non-pollen microfossils, organic content, and geochemistry; and then the findings will be integrated with available historical and archaeological records. 

digimap_roam of sites already sampled and other potential locations

What led to the design of this project?:

At the time I was working on Gordon's 'Comparative Kingship Project', using palaeoenvironmental analysis to explore social-environmental change in early Medieval Scotland; this is one of the inspirations which led me to the design of this project, as well as the Loch of Leys in Aberdeenshire which was introduced to me by Michael Stratigos, and particularly regarding our recent publication in Quaternary Science Reviews which explores settlement & landscape change at the Loch of Leys Crannog in Aberdeenshire (excavated by Michael & sediments extracted by Michael & Laura Hardy; Michael is also co-author on the publication). This publication generated a number of questions regarding Roman occupation and ultimately led to me writing this grant.

About the Project


I would also like to acknowledge all of the collaborators involved in this new project (Tim, Ewan, Maarten, Fraser, Antonio, Gordon) as well as the landowners who have granted us permission to extract sediments:


  • Tim Mighall in particular, from the University of Aberdeen whose interests are detecting metal working using geochemical analysis from peat sequences and Palynology. 

  • Antonio Martínez Cortizas from the University of Santiago de Compostela, Spain is a major expert in Geochemistry and will play a major role in the geochemical analysis and interpretation of these results 

  • Maarten Blaauw is a major expert in radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling and will play an important role in the age/depth modelling of the sediment sequences as well as with the publications. 

  • Ewan Campbell is an archaeologist from the University of Glasgow and a major expert in early monastic Scotland and the Kingdom of Dal Riata in western Scotland. He will make a significant contribution towards the interpretation of results from the early monastic sites, particularly Iona & Tiree

  • Fraser Hunter from the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh is a major expert in Roman Iron age Scotland. He also excavated Birnie. Fraser will contribute towards the Roman side of the project, the integration of historical and archaeological knowledge into the interpretations.

  • Gordon Noble from the University of Aberdeen is also an archaeologist and major expert in early Medieval Scotland, particularly the Picts in eastern Scotland. Gordon will also be helping with the integration of historical and archaeological knowledge into the palaeoenvironmental interpretations.

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