University of Aberdeen
The buried remains of the largest settlement in medieval Britain lie on a hill overlooking a small Scottish village. During the heyday of the 400s and 500s, around 4,000 people lived in the town's earthen city walls. This was around the time when the Picts in kingdoms in north-east Scotland united to defend themselves against rival groups.
Until recently, archaeologists assumed that the fortified community was much older and much smaller. However, a recent Lidar survey in connection with excavations on the hill found that a large urban center flourished in the centuries shortly after Rome left Britain. A drone with lidar instruments called Tap O’Noth, which was sent across the site, mapped the long buried foundations of about 800 huts, which were grouped in groups and along paths. The huts were all within the 17 hectare area, which was surrounded by an earth wall on the lower slopes of Tap O’Noth. If there were about four or five people in each hut, that would have a total population of 3,200 to 4,000.
"It's almost urban, and in a pictorial context, we have nothing like it." We previously assumed that you would have to get around Scotland around the 12th century before the settlements reached this size, ”said Gordon Noble, archaeologist at the University of Aberdeen. In an email to Ars, he added, "We really have no parallels for such a large site in early medieval Britain."
"We have nothing like it."
The Picten was a Celtic-speaking culture that made its living mainly by raising cattle and growing crops and vegetables. Until the Romans arrived in 43 AD, most of the Picts lived in small communities, but the danger of a Roman invasion changed everything. It wasn't long before the small Pictish peasant communities largely disappeared from the map.
"In the 3rd and 4th centuries, people in such places may have banded together to respond to the threat of attacks from the Roman Empire," Noble told Ars the Roman."
That seems to have happened at Tap O’Noth. The oldest mountain fortress, located on the top of the hill, dates from between 400 and 100 BC. BC, and radiocarbon comes from some test digs on the site, suggesting that the settlement began to grow in the 200s. The lowest and widest Wallkreis was built in the 400s.
"We don't really know if Tap O & # 39; Noth was a permanent settlement," Noble told Ars. "It could have been a seasonal gathering place where people gathered at certain times of the year. However, a large number of workers were used on the site and in its defenses, so that it could be a year-round settlement. In this case, given the restrictions on agricultural land, it seems likely that the community would need support from Tribute or Render of a wider population. "
A merging kingdom
The large, fortified community was part of a complex Pictish landscape that is somewhat difficult to see in today's rural environment. Another fortified settlement in nearby Cairnmore dates from the same period, although it is much smaller than that in Tap O’Noth (after all, everything from medieval Britain is smaller than the settlement in Tap O’Noth). And in the valley below Tap O’Noth, on today's Barflat Farm, archaeologists have unearthed another fortified settlement that seems to have distant commercial ties. Excavations have found goods from the rest of Europe: Mediterranean wine, French glassware and intensive metal production. At this point there is still a carved standing stone known locally as Rhynie Man.
Noble and his colleagues are not yet sure how all of these Pictish websites fit together, but the websites had to have social, political, and economic connections. There were probably a number of early Pictish kingdoms that emerged after the Roman retreat. Noble says that after the end of the Roman threat, these Pictish groups joined forces to defend themselves against aggressive neighbors and rival kingdoms.
It is not yet clear whether Tap O’Noth was the economic basis for a political center on the nearby Barflat Farm with its abundance of luxury goods abroad – or vice versa.
"It could be the community that supported an early Pictish royal lineage on Barflat Farm, or it could be the elite community that used Barflat as a ceremony center," Noble told Tars. "In both scenarios, I think we see insights into the rise of the Pictish kingdoms by working in places like Tap O & # 39; Noth."
Where old and modern worlds overlap
Because of the layout of the huts, Noble and his colleagues have suggested that the settlements were probably all built and used around the same time. To be sure, Noble told Ars, archaeologists will have to dig out more hut platforms. So far, they have only dug out artifacts from two and dated it with radiocarbon.
"We really need to dig more platforms to judge how many are actually up to date or whether there was a smaller population that used different parts of the website over time," he said. "We also want to see if we can assess the permanent or seasonal use of the platforms using soil science techniques and additional dating."
In the meantime, the remains of an early Pictish kingdom lie beneath the hills and valleys that surround the modern village of Rhynie, home to several hundred people. While agriculture and animal husbandry are still the region's lifeblood, it is far from the busy centers where the country was 1,500 or 1,600 years ago.
"This often happens in terms of size compared to the modern population," Noble said. “The royal centers of Scone or Forteviot (later Pictoan / Scottish royal centers) are now only small villages. The political centers are shifting and the population is accompanying them. "