ROMAN QUEST DIG – EDINBURGH
This scene from the Knoll in Buckstone reminded us of a scene from Gladiator…
The Quest for a lost Roman Camp in the Fairmilehead, Buckstone and Comiston area of Edinburgh was assisted by the Antonine Guard re-enactment group. This event launched the 2013 Scottish Archaeology Month festival and took place over three days.
AOC Archaeology Group was commissioned by Archaeology Scotland to provide professional support to this community led archaeological project at the site of the possible Roman fort at Fairmilehead. The work was undertaken with local community groups over one weekend during August 2013 and comprised test pit surveys with help from over 50 members of the public at various locations around the Fairmilehead area of Edinburgh. The test pits were located in two public parks, Fairmilehead Park and Fairmilehead Knoll, together with volunteers’ private gardens. The project aimed to look for evidence of an enclosure first depicted on Armstrong’s ‘Map of the Three Lothians’ and subsequently recorded as a supposed Roman fort on the Ordnance Survey 1855 and 1885 mapping.
The test pitting survey revealed that the area had been largely truncated during the construction of the housing and the development of the area during the first half of the 20th century. A solitary flint flake attested to the prehistoric usage of the area, however no finds or features of Roman origin were revealed. A possible field ditch was reported at one test pit with large stones reported at another but no significant artefacts were encountered during the limited works.
The investigation area was centred on National Grid Reference NT 24560 68602
THE CAIY STANE
A Roman Camp is identified in at least three separate historic maps of Scotland and it is known that temporary Roman Camps were sometimes created from existing structures. With the identification of an oval structure in one of our historic maps, it is possible that this may have been an pre-existing iron-age enclosure. The monuments above and other recorded sites testify to settlement in the area over thousands of years, short cists excavated in Buckstone in 1972 are estimated to date to the bronze age*. However, without evidence, we may never know if this space was at one short period of time, a Roman Camp.
There is of course the possibility that we were 'looking in the wrong place' as historic maps are not as accurate as we are used to today. Using the historic maps from the National Library of Scotland, our aim was to match old landmarks to our modern maps, the extent took in the old course of the Braid Burn to the crossroads at Fairmilehead. The Braid Burn has not meandered greatly in the last 100 years but may have done so prior to this. Similarly old roads can be traced back in time, the fork at Buckstone has endured along with the cross-roads at Fairmilehead, place-names also endure although spelling can change. Notice the mile markers on the maps, and the name change from 'Farmilehead' to what we now call Fairmilehead.
The main road heading south towards Biggar is identified as the Roman Road, excavation work during building in antiquity identified graves and human bones. It was assumed that these were Roman however records are scant.
* Close-Brooks, J 1974 ‘Short Cists at Buckstone Road, Fairmilehead, Edinburgh’ Proc. Soc Antiqu Scot, 105 (1972-4), 281-3
1. Bing Maps were used to specify areas for geophysics, display the estimated location of the Roman Camp and the proximity to this of the participants.
The maps below were used to estimate the possible location of the camp.
2. OS One-inch to the mile maps of Scotland, 1st Edition, 1856-1891. Sheet 32 – [Edinburgh] Publication date: 1857. By kind permission of the National Library of Scotland. Explore this map.
3. Armstrong, Andrew, 1700-1794, Armstrong, Mostyn, fl. 1769-1791. Title: Map of the three Lothians. Imprint: [Edinburgh] : s.n., 1773. By kind permission of the National Library of Scotland. Explore this map. The historic map shows the two landmarks, Buckston (now Buckstane) and Kay's Stone (now The Caiy Stane) with the Roman camp area identified here as an oval beside 'Oliver Cromwell's Camp'. The site of the 'possible Roman Camp' area on map 2 appears on this map to be a smaller tree-lined estate border in relation to the larger marked 'Commiston' Estate. The modern map overlay estimated location.
4. Armstrong, Andrew, 1700-1794, Armstrong, Mostyn, fl. 1769-1791. Title: Map of the three Lothians. Imprint: [Edinburgh] : s.n., 1773. Historic map use by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland. Explore other NLS historic maps.
5. Laurie, John, fl. 1757-1800 Title: A plan of Edinburgh and places adjacent. Imprint: [Edinburgh : s.n., 1766]. Modern map overlay. Historic map use by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland. Explore this map.
6. Ainslie, John, 1745-1828. Title: Ainslie's Map of the Southern Part of Scotland. Imprint: Edinburgh : Macreadie Skelly & Co., 1821. Historic map use by kind permission of the National Library of Scotland. Explore this map. Overlay of modern map estimated location.
PLACE-NAME STUDY – The following names describing the stones were found
Catt Stane – Kirkliston
Cait, son of Cruithne, Pictish Prince
(Kel) Stane, Comiston
Similar to: The Camb in Yell
Kame, Kames, Kaim, Kaims – associated with long low ridges such as Kaimes Hill in Dalmahoy
ROMAN TEMPORARY CAMPS
Dr Rebecca Jones kindly gave a talk on temporary Roman Camps. Given the ephemeral nature of such camps, the low percentage of the area examined and the centuries of change, quarrying and modern settlement in the region, it was always going to be difficult to locate our camp.
This following list is quoted from ‘Roman Camps in Scotland’ by R. H. Jones, (2011: 6-7). Categories proposed by Lepper, F & Frere, S Trajan’s Column (1988: 260-1) following Richmond, I A ‘Roman Britain and Roman Military Antiquities. Albert Reckitt Archaeological Lecture’, Proc British Academy XLI (1955: 300-3).
MARCHING CAMPS – temporary bases of a tented army on campaign or manoeuvres away from their base – It would probably be similar in size or shape to those not more than one day’s walk or march away, one in a series or line.
PRACTICE CAMPS – small camps which cluster together indicating the exercise grounds and training regimes of the soldiers, including the construction of ramparts, ditches and gates. Many examples are known in upland areas of Wales (eg Davies & Jones 2006: 67-90) – If there is a large established fort nearby, the so called practice camps would have been used in training particularly in the craft of castrametation (the making of a military camp). They may have rounded corners and gate defences, a variety of ditch types apparent.
SIEGE CAMPS – enclosures constructed to house troops besieging a nearby site. Well known examples include Numantia in Spain (Dobson 2008) and Masada in Israel (Richmond 1962) – This is the serious end of the Roman camps; these are most likely to be found in strategic positions close to an indigenous stronghold they plan to attack.
CONSTRUCTION CAMPS – temporary enclosures housing soldiers involved in the construction of a nearby fort or frontier. The best examples in Britain are those along the line of the Antonine Wall (Hanson & Maxwell 1983: 117-19; Jones 2005b)
END – look out for this book at our community events for more insights.
The location of the Fairmilehead/Comiston/Buckstone does appear to bridge a gap in the line of camps between Eskbank and Gogar Green. The size equtes to that of Gogar but only further surveys and or excavation will identify what type of camp it was; in its absence we have the Roman remains found in the vicinity to possibly provide a context for our camp. It would also be of interest to identify which campaign the camp was connected to.
AOC Archaeology supervised the public taking part in the post-excavation sorting and washing of finds at our hub in the Fairmilehead Parish Church. George Haggarty generously gave a talk on the wide selection of pottery uncovered, this was very informative despite finding no Roman artefacts.
This community project is now closed and a huge thank you to everyone who took part.