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The Fourth Statistical Account of East Lothian

Development & archaeology: the example of the A1 dualling

Since the early 1990s, the impact of development on archaeological remains has been controlled and minimised through the planning system. In areas of archaeological potential, the council can require would-be developers to fund archaeological assessment of sensitive areas before development, and, by attaching archaeological conditions to planning consents, the council can ensure that, where necessary, sites are excavated in advance of development, again paid for by the developer. This system applies to government developments too, including roadworks. Nowadays, archaeology is a commercial business like any other, with companies competing for business: the contract for the archaeological work on the A1 was won by GUARD, a commercial company based in Glasgow University.

The dualling of the A1 from Haddington to Dunbar, underway from 2000, demonstrated the extraordinary wealth of archaeological sites still waiting to be discovered beneath the ploughed fields of East Lothian. In this 11-mile stretch of roadline, some of the oldest sites in the county were revealed. By Eweford Cottages, just south of Dunbar, for example, the JCB bucket scraping off the topsoil revealed the tops of burial urns. Subsequent months of excavation showed this to be an ancient focus for burials and funerary activities, including a massive 5,500-6,000 year old timber wall and the remains of a mortuary house with large pits within it. This was a totally unexpected discovery which, when analysed, will be of very great importance for our understanding of the earliest farming communities in Scotland. The pottery from this phase includes fine early to mid fourth millennium BC bowl rims. Later on, the site was used as an unenclosed cemetery in the Bronze Age, between 4,000 and 3,000 years ago, with burials taking place over many generations. The burial pits contained burial urns full of cremated human bone, one with a tanged copper alloy knife, another with a beautiful little stone weapon like a tomahawk, and another copper alloy dagger was found nearby. This is the first scientific excavation of a large cremation cemetery in Lothian. Ironically, the roadline had carefully steered between two areas of known cropmarks protected as scheduled monuments at Eweford, to try to avoid disturbing archaeological remains. These major discoveries prove beyond doubt that sites visible from the air as cropmarks are only the tip of an archaeological iceberg. A host of other sites have also been discovered on the roadline, including Iron Age pit alignments (land divisions) and settlements, and possible Roman remains.

The Iron Age tribes and Roman Inveresk

According to Ptolemy's remarkable second-century AD map, the Lothians formed part of the territory of the Votadini, whose capital may have been on Traprain Law. There is some evidence that the Votadini were friendly with, or at least posed little threat to the Romans, who did not build a network of forts in Lothian as they did elsewhere, to guard their supply lines or subjugate the natives. They did, of course, build at least one fort in their territory, High Rochester. Agricola, governor of Britain from AD 77, led the first campaigns in Scotland and reached the Tay estuary in a single season, but the armies were mostly withdrawn in AD 87/88. Almost 50 years later, in about 140 AD, Antoninus Pius ordered his armies to advance into central Scotland and begin construction of the Antonine Wall and a network of forts, including that at Inveresk. Trouble on the northern frontier was never far away though, and most forts were abandoned sometime in the decade AD 160-170. The Roman armies were professional fighting forces, often tens of thousands strong, advancing across the northern landscape wherever they were called. Each evening, they pitched rows of leather tents within a temporary marching camp. Today, the only evidence for Roman marching camps in East Lothian comes from aerial photography: several are visible south of Inveresk.

The Roman fort at Inveresk is one of the most important in Scotland. Here it was, in the mid second century AD, that the Romans built a large fort on a prominent ridge beside the coast, with extensive views to the north and west and out to sea. Its military function was to prevent any outflanking enemy movements by sea around the Antonine Wall and to guard the mouth of the River Esk. A harbour facility almost certainly existed nearby, to provision supply lines to the forts on the Wall itself. Unlike most other forts in Roman Scotland, however, the presence of the fort and harbour is known to have led to the growth of an extensive civil settlement, which spread eastwards along the ridge at Inveresk, including a 'street' flanked by stone and timber buildings. Within the civil settlement, plentiful evidence survives for the lives of the camp followers, merchants and craftsmen who took up residence.

The village saw many excavations in the last 50 years, which gave us a partial plan of the fort itself and unearthed more and more of the civil settlement. Inveresk also offers an opportunity to examine the relationship between natives and invaders, as the whole complex of Roman remains is located within a roughly contemporary Iron Age landscape of settlements and field systems. One of the most intriguing discoveries was the remains of probably a Roman military amphitheatre, found at Park Lane in 1995. From as early as 1565, when a Roman altar was found in the grounds of Eskgrove House, right up to the discovery in 2000 of an extraordinarily well-preserved Roman well, six metres deep and lined with wooden barrels, at Inveresk Gate, the Inveresk area has continued to produce a rich variety of finds and a fascinating array of archaeological features, stretching along the ridge on which the village lies and beyond. The altar recorded the presence of the Procurator of Britain at Inveresk and underlines the importance of the site.

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