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Broxmouth (UK)

Iron Age Hillfort in Scotland


Location Map of East Lothian, Scotland

Location Map of East Lothian, Scotland


Broxmouth is the name of the remains of an Iron Age hillfort, which was occupied continuously between the early-mid first millennium BC into the early centuries AD. The site is located in East Lothian, about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from Dunbar, Scotland and 600 meters (~2,000 feet) from the North Sea coast. The site has evidence for several wall fortification enclosures, numerous well-preserved roundhouses and three distinct cemetery regions. Broxmouth is important for its extensive and well-preserved artifact assemblage of animal bone and shell; and its evidence for Iron Age deep sea fishing.

The first evidence for occupation of the site is early Iron Age, and limited to a palisade trench and some fragmentary ditch elements. The major enclosure was built about 500 BC, and rebuilt several times over the next two hundred years. Eventually, the fort had at least four ramparts and ditches and a complex series of entrance gates. By around 300 cal BC, the enclosing fortifications at the site were abandoned and occupation spread outside across the inner ditch. Timber and stone roundhouses were built, rebuilt and occupied until the third century AD, when the settlement of the hill was abandoned.

Faunal Remains

The large animal bone assemblage (>34,000 fragments, most of which were butchered domestic cow bones) recovered from the middens at Broxmouth contained some surprises: 36 fish bone fragments representing Atlantic cod, ling, flatfish, gadid, European plaice, saithe and possibly shark. All of the fish represent large specimens of marine species and some, such as the ling, commonly live at depths to 100-400 meters (330-1300 feet). These fish must either have been obtained via trade or by deep sea fishing: since there is little other possible evidence of exchange systems in place at Broxmouth is in effect at the site, and researchers Russ et al. believe the bones are evidence of Iron Age deep sea fishing.

The fish bones only represent a total of nine fish. Shellfish, crustaceans, whale and seal bone represent an additional minor dietary component in the faunal bone, although there were large quantities of marine shell, especially winkles and limpets, found at Broxmouth. The winkles and limpets were most likely brought to the site as empty shells, and perhaps used in some craft or industrial process. Isotopic analysis of the human bones, however, indicate that marine protein was a relatively small percentage of the diet for people living at Broxmouth.

Burials at Broxmouth

Cemetery elements at Broxmouth include a small formal inhumation cemetery located north of the outer ditch; four isolated inhumation burials within the fort itself; and a number of disarticulated fragmentary human remains found within middens, floor deposits and other domestic contexts.

The cemetery contains 10 interments, including 8 single burials and one double. Most of the graves are oval or sub-rectangular, and approximately .7 m (2.3 ft) deep. Most of the burials were slab-lined and/or covered with stone slabs, although the floors of the graves were not. Some of the capping slabs are decorated. The skeletons were of at least four males and six females, most of whom were adults, aged 18-35. Two sub-adults were recovered, a 9-10 year old and a 12-13 year old. The cemetery was used between ca 300-150 cal BC.

Three isolated burials of women were found within the hillfort, two of which dated to the early Iron Age, between 520-400 cal BC. A third dated 370-160 cal BC was placed so that it would be visible to those using the entranceway. A fourth isolated burial post-dates the Iron Age hillfort by several centuries, ~AD 390-540.

Twenty-two disarticulated fragments of human remains were discovered from roundhouses, middens, or ditch deposits. Most are from cranial or mandibles, most were from adults. Several show evidence of violent attack, a few were deliberately modified. Isotope analysis indicates that these individuals were likely not residents of Broxmouth, but possibly war trophies.


Broxmouth was part of a salvage excavation conducted between 1977-1979 by Peter Hill in advance of the expansion of a cement works, and there is little of the site works visible today. Publication of the results was stalled in the early 1980s, and the analysis and publication of the results has been undertaken in the early 21st century by a team led by Ian Armit and Jo McKenzie.


This glossary entry is a part of the About.com guide to the European Iron Age, and the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Armit I, Neale N, Shapland F, Bosworth H, Hamilton D, and McKenzie J. 2013. The Ins and Outs of Death in the Iron Age: Complex Funerary Treatments at Broxmouth Hillfort, East Lothian. Oxford Journal Of Archaeology 32(1):73-100.

Russ H, Armit I, McKenzie J, and Jones AKG. 2012. Deep-sea fishing in the Iron Age? New evidence from Broxmouth hillfort, South-east Scotland. Environmental Archaeology 17(2):177-184.

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