The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders

The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders

The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders

The Iron Age in Northern Britain: Celts and Romans, Natives and Invaders


The Iron Age in Northern Britain examines the impact of the Roman expansion northwards, and the native response to the Roman occupation on both sides of the frontiers. It traces the emergence of historically-recorded communities in the post-Roman period and looks at the clash of cultures between Celts and Romans, Picts and Scots.Northern Britain has too often been seen as peripheral to a 'core' located in south-eastern England.Unlike the Iron Age in southern Britain, the story of which can be conveniently terminated with the Roman conquest, the Iron Age in northern Britain has no such horizon to mark its end. The Roman presence in southern and eastern Scotland was militarily intermittent and left untouched large tracts of Atlantic Scotland for which there is a rich legacy of Iron Age settlement, continuing from the mid-first millennium BC to the period of Norse settlement in the late first millennium AD.Here D.W. Harding shows that northern Britain was not peripheral in the Iron Age: it simply belonged to an Atlantic European mainstream different from southern England and its immediate continental neighbours.


The present study is the cumulative result of a personal involvement in Iron Age archaeology in Britain over the past fifty years. At the same time it does not claim to be the last word, or even the writer's last word, on the subject. in fact, the absence hitherto of a general synthesis of the Iron Age in Northern Britain is a measure of the relative neglect until recent years by professional archaeologists of the Iron Age north of the Trent, and the long-standing dominance of Wessex and southern England in British prehistoric archaeology.

The writer began his career in Wessex, directing his first excavation on Cranborne Chase in 1958. Early field experience as a student volunteer had been mainly on Roman sites, at Lullingstone villa, at Verulamium with Sheppard Frere, and in Wales at the fort of Castell Collen in Radnorshire. Working as a schoolboy on a native Romano-British settlement at Studland, Dorset and subsequently on the Dark Age site at Dinas Powys and on a Medieval castle in North Wales had stimulated interests beyond Roman Britain. Directing the excavation at Pimperne in Dorset in the early sixties, and meeting Professor Christopher Hawkes there before going up to Oxford, confirmed a career in Iron Age studies, leading to postgraduate research at the Oxford Institute of Archaeology and a first appointment in the Ashmolean Museum.

Appointment to a lectureship at Durham in the mid-1960s began my drift north, and introduced me to a host of fieldworkers, professional and amateur. Among many whose excavations and surveys I visited in the field I recall especially the late Don Spratt and his colleagues in Cleveland and the North York Moors, and Denis Coggins and Ken Fairless in Upper Teesdale. My postgraduate students of that time also included Aidan Challis, Rob Young, Rowan Whimster and the late Peter Scott, all of whom made significant contributions to the archaeology of Northern Britain. Above all, literally, I explored northern England and beyond from the air, and have a debt of gratitude to Denis Ord and Ray Selkirk in particular, who compensated for my shortcomings as a pilot and navigator on many occasions.

Translation to Edinburgh in the mid-1970s led to widening interest in the Northern and Western Isles, and from the early 1980s the Edinburgh University Department of Archaeology has been regularly engaged in fieldwork in the Outer Hebrides, based upon its field centre at Calanais. This, one of the richest archaeological landscapes in Britain, had been largely neglected since the Rockets Galore rescue programme in the 1950s, but with first the Edinburgh initiative, followed within a year or two by the Sheffield search programme, that deficit has in part at least been rectified. the Northern Isles by contrast had for many years attracted colonial expeditions from the

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