Long-lost Dark Age kingdom discovered in southern Scotland

A team of archaeologists and volunteers has found the location of a long-lost early medieval kingdom in southern Scotland.

The excavation in Dumfries and Galloway unearthed an important site from the sixth-century kingdom of Rheged. While the kingdom was known to encompass parts of southern Scotland and northern England, its actual location has long been shrouded in mystery.

Excavations at the site, known as Trusty’s Hill Fort, offer important clues to the elusive kingdom. “What we have found has all the hallmarks of an early medieval royal site,” Ronan Toolis, who led the excavation for GUARD Archaeology, told Fox News. “There’s lots of evidence of wealth and power.”


Artifacts found include imported pottery from western France that once contained dyes and spices, slingshots, as well as crucibles and bowls with traces of gold, silver and bronzes. Toolis told Fox News that the crucibles and bowls were for metalworking - a thistle-headed iron pin with a bronze decoration was unearthed at the site, along with a bronze decoration for a horse’s bridle.


Thistle-headed iron pin from Trusty's Hill. Analysis showed that this was originally embellished with copper alloy inlay decoration. Thistle head decorated pins have been found in Dark Age sites across south-west Scotland demonstrating that the thistle emblem goes back a long way in Scotland. (©DGNHAS / GUARD Archaeology Ltd)

Excavations show that, in the decades around 600 A.D., the summit of the hill was fortified with a stone rampart and timber. Additional defenses and enclosures were added to the fort’s slopes.

Experts were drawn to the Trusty’s Hill site by carvings in the bedrock that are unique to the region. Likely made by one of the Britons that inhabited the region in the sixth century, the carvings are influenced by the ancient Pictish culture of northern Scotland.


“The Pictish carvings frame one side of the entranceway and a ceremonial well is on the other side,” said Toolis. “There’s almost like a ritualized entranceway.”

Many historians had assumed that the ancient kingdom of Rheged was centered around the modern city of Carlisle in northern England, although the discoveries at Trusty’s Hill Fort now challenge that assumption.

Excavation at the site began in 2012 and experts have spent the last few years piecing together its history. “It has taken quite a lot of time to do the post-excavation analysis, like the radiocarbon dating and specialist analysis of the artifacts,” said Toolis.


Some 60 volunteers also participated in the dig.

The archaeological evidence has just been revealed in the book “The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged.”

Archaeological sites in Britain have been getting plenty of attention recently, such as the potential discovery in south Wales of the lost 13th-century city of Trellech.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers