A Final Season at King's Seat

AOC has been working with Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust (PKHT) and Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society (DBHS) on an exciting three year project investigating the hillfort of King’s Seat, above Dunkeld. This project offered the opportunity for volunteers and local schools to partake in fieldwork and receive training in archaeological methods and practice whilst uncovering the history of this enigmatic site.

Two hearths at Kings Seat, under being excavated by volunteerKing’s Seat hillfort is located on the north side of the River Tay as it runs through Dunkeld. The fort is situated on top of a rocky outcrop and was long inaccessible due to rhododendron growth over the summit. However, thanks to a gargantuan effort from DBHS volunteers, the summit of King’s Seat is now free from vegetation, meaning that the fort can be visited, appreciated and excavated.

A low wall surrounds a central upper citadel measuring about 35m x 25m, situated at the summit of the hill with a series of ramparts enclosing a western terrace lower down the hill. At the base of the hill a further substantial bank encloses an eastern terrace.  

The final season of excavations at King’s Seat took place in September 2019. Over the three years of excavation we uncovered multiple hearths (right) on the upper citadel and the western terrace within timber and/or turf defined structures. The finds included evidence of domestic activity and possible feasting within a large post-defined structure. This was substantiated by the large number of animal bones, teeth and horn fragments as well as fragments of glass drinking vessel (below, centre) and gaming pieces from this area.

In addition to this, multiple spindle whorls (below, left) and extensive remains of both iron and previous metal working activity, including crucibles, stone and clay moulds and whetstones, indicate craft production taking place on the site. What is particularly interesting is that this activity has been identified everywhere we have excavated, indicating it is fairly extensive and the site was therefore likely a centre for production rather than a small group making items for their own consumption.

Spindle whorl, glass beaker sherd and glass bead fragment from king's seat

Left: spindle whorl. Centre: a sherd from a mustard yellow glass beaker. Right: fragment of blue glass bead

Evidence that this site was an important place are reinforced by some E-ware ceramic finds imported from the Continent and Anglo-Saxon glass beads (identified by Dr Ewan Campbell, University of Glasgow). These finds indicate wide ranging trading links with a variety of places.

Artefacts so far are in keeping with other high-status or royal sites that have been dated to the early historic period including Dunadd, Dundurn, Mote of Mark and Buiston crannog. We have radiocarbon dates for one of the hearths and a posthole under one of the banks that indicate 7th-8th century AD activity. We eagerly await further dating evidence from samples from elsewhere across the site to refine the chronology from different areas of the site.

In addition to a fantastic team of community volunteers, we also had visits from local primary schools, as well as work experience students. If you would like to find out more, please have a look at the blog and stay posted for updates on the post-excavation programme that will be undertaken over the coming year.

King’s Seat Archaeology Project is managed by Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust, in partnership with the Dunkeld and Birnam Historical Society. This citizen-science project is supported by the National Lottery through the National Lottery Heritage Fund, as well as the Gannochy Trust and SSE Griffin and Calliacher Community Fund.