The archaeological site at Trusty’s Hill in Galloway, Scotland, is known to have been a cultural center for the Pict, the confederation of tribal peoples that lived in what is now northern and eastern Scotland during Roman times. After some five years of excavation, however, researchers working there now believe they have uncovered something far more important: the site of the long-lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged. Though the kingdom featured prominently in Arthurian legend, inspired early medieval poetry and left historical records of dominance, its location has remained a mystery for centuries.
Archaeologists began excavations at Trusty’s Hill back in 2012, after finding ancient Pictish symbols carved into an outcropping of rocks near the entrance to the site. The carvings were unique in the region, which is far to the south of where Pictish carvings had usually been found. (Roman writings of around A.D. 300 described the Picts as the hostile tribes of the region north of the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde; they are thought to have been a loose confederation of Celtic tribes, but their exact origins are uncertain.)
What the archaeologists uncovered at the site turned out to be a complex type of fort, dating to around A.D. 600. A wooden and stone rampart had been built around the summit of the hill to fortify the site, in addition to other defensive structures and enclosures on its lower slopes. The style was consistent with other high-status settlements of the early medieval period in Scotland.
This was not a run-of-the-mill agricultural settlement, in other words, but a far more important center. Dr. David Bowles, a Scottish Borders Council archaeologist and co-director of the dig, believes its inhabitants likely managed the farming and natural resources of a much larger estate. As Bowles told the Independent of the settlement’s influence: “Control was maintained by bonding the people of this land and the districts beyond to the royal household, by gifts, promises of protection and the bounties of raiding and warfare.”
Just how influential was this royal settlement? According to Ronan Toolis of GUARD Archaeology, which led the dig, the archaeological evidence collected at Trusty’s Hill “suggests that Galloway may have been the heart of the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged, a kingdom that was in the late sixth century pre-eminent amongst the kingdoms of the north.”
Photo Credit: GUARD Archaeology