Archaeologists find Roman objects abandoned during a British rebellion, traces of the lost Iona monastery, and a weapons hoard belonging to a wealthy Bronze Age warrior.
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We may be a small island,
but we have a rich and complex history
that's still full of mysteries.
So, every year, hundreds of archaeologists go out hunting
for lost pieces from our missing past.
-A tiny, tiny coin.
Every element is there.
This is just unbelievable.
In 2017, their investigations continue to fill in the gaps...
Never... Never cease to be amazed, eh?
..bringing us closer to our ancestors than ever before.
I did not expect to be pulling that out of the ground.
In this programme, Digging For Britain showcases the very best digs
from the North of the UK.
Oh, wow! That's rather lovely, Sean.
Each of the excavations has been filmed as it happened,
by the archaeologists themselves.
Their dig diaries mean that we can be there
for each exciting moment of discovery...
-Oh, it's Excalibur.
-How does that feel, Rupert?
Yeah, pretty good!
..and now the archaeologists are bringing their finds -
from pottery to metalwork to human remains -
into our lab, so that we can take a closer look at them
and find out what they tell us about our British ancestors.
Welcome to Digging For Britain.
In this programme,
we're joining archaeologists in the North
to share their biggest discoveries.
We visit a site
that's turning our image of the mysterious Picts on its head.
-What do you think of that, Roy?
-Oh, man! Wow!
We're there as a team unearths
a spectacular Bronze Age weapons hoard...
We realised very quickly
that we had something very important on our hands.
..and in Orkney, we join a team battling the elements
to rescue a Neolithic settlement older than Skara Brae.
I've come to Edinburgh, to the National Museum of Scotland,
to find out how some of the 12 million objects
contained in its vast collection
can help us to tell the story of the North.
Our first dig takes us south of Edinburgh
to the frontier fort of Vindolanda in Northumberland -
one of the richest sites in Roman-British archaeology.
Vindolanda lies just off the Roman frontier of Hadrian's Wall.
It was one of the wall's key forts,
seeing off repeated uprisings from northern tribes.
Excavations have been going on here for nearly 50 years,
uncovering thousands of incredible objects.
Every year, archaeologists delve deeper into Roman Vindolanda,
and this year they're getting down to a very exciting level,
early in the days of the fort, pre-Hadrian's Wall.
So, can they find evidence that reveals what life was like
for those soldiers in a turbulent time for Roman Britain?
This is video diary, day one, for Dig For Britain at Vindolanda.
Hopes are high because, for the first time,
the team is digging beneath the concrete floor of a barrack block.
The remains sealed beneath the concrete have been protected from
the corrosive effects of air for nearly 2,000 years.
Very quickly, the team chances upon a wooden find
that, without these special conditions,
would have long since rotted away.
What Sam is uncovering here is a wooden artefact,
or a series of wooden artefacts. Look at that.
-Isn't that fantastic, the colour of the wood there?
Oh, it's got a handle on it.
These are handles. It's amazing! Look at this thing.
I've been here for seven years
and I honestly don't think I've found anything
of that beauty before. I'm kind of a bit emotional.
So... It's really quite something.
It's not until they get it to the lab that they work out what it is.
As usual, when things come down to the lab,
they get cleaned up beautifully for conservation.
When that happens, you get to see the detail.
You can see the parts of tools,
wooden planes which were used by the Romans to plane off the walls
and make their furniture, and all the things that they used
when they lived in those spaces.
Over the following days, the team unearths hundreds more objects.
-So, what is it?
-It's a footprint, possibly...
I think probably a dog. It's fantastic!
After a while, you learn, kind of, what to look for
when you're looking at those kind of things. So it's great.
The preservation here ensures a vivid picture
of everyday life in a Roman fort...
..but what the team's really hoping for is evidence of those early days
of occupation, when the Romans were under attack
from the British rebels.
What they find exceeds all their expectations.
-OK, Rupert, we're going to go for it.
It's a sword, intact and still in its sheath.
-That is absolutely amazing. Absolutely amazing.
A Roman sword was an expensive weapon
the owner himself would have paid for,
and it's not something a soldier
would have casually left lying around.
Something actually still sitting in its sheath.
We would never expect to find that, to be honest.
In a room that is effectively a living space, living quarters, no.
That is not the sort of thing you'd expect them to leave behind.
Military records tell us that, in 117 AD,
the Northern British tribes rebelled against the Romans -
but, frustratingly, we have little detail of the conflict itself.
Does this abandoned sword suggest that the Romans
were even more threatened here than we'd thought?
The team's next find could bring them closer to the truth.
We think we've just found a writing tablet.
-Oh, my goodness!
-Oh, my legs are shaking!
-Let's have a look.
-So... Wait, wait, wait.
Oh, my God, you can see something on it!
-Can you see it?
What they've found is a Roman letter,
dropped in exactly the same room as the sword.
-One on top of the other...
-Well done, Gary.
The most famous finds to emerge from the fort are the Vindolanda tablets,
first discovered in 1973.
From birthday invitations to military shopping lists,
they give us a unique insight into the lives of the Roman troops
and their families in Britain.
If you find the documents from the person who used the sword,
and they're giving you their opinions,
and they're talking about their everyday lives,
well, that's unbelievable.
You can't beat that sort of information.
The new tablet is taken away for conservation
in the hope that it will reveal
what really happened during the rebellion.
As the dig nears its end, the trench reveals one last surprising find.
There we go.
Well, congratulations, you found yourself a Roman sword.
I wasn't really expecting this.
It's incredibly rare.
I don't think I've ever heard of anybody finding two swords
on an excavation in a couple of weeks -
but obviously they've left these swords here in a hurry.
That's the only explanation I can possibly think.
After one of the most exciting seasons of digging at Vindolanda,
I'm asking Andrew into the lab to reveal what the dig says
about that time of British rebellion,
and to tell me about finding
that first incredibly well-preserved sword.
Andrew, Vindolanda's such a wonderful site,
and as you said there, it's so fantastic
to have this written evidence as well as all of the objects, too.
-Tell me about the sword, though.
-Well, it's more or less complete.
It's in its scabbard and it was left on the floor by the people who,
well, we can only assume left in a hurry,
amongst a host of other stuff.
You know, an incredible collection of things, really.
More than you would expect to find
if people are leaving in an orderly fashion,
taking all their belongings and their valuables.
Andrew believes that these possessions were abandoned
in a period when the Romans were struggling to maintain control here,
just before Hadrian's Wall was built.
This is a time of British rebellion.
This is when locals around Vindolanda
are trying to remove the Roman yoke,
and garrisons like the ones at Vindolanda are in trouble,
and so, either they are leaving to deal with something
and they don't have an opportunity to come back
and take their valuables with them,
or they're packing their bags in such a hurry
that they can literally only carry
what they can immediately get their hands on,
and things like this, sitting in the corner of a room,
-just get left behind...
-It's been overlooked.
-And what's that? HE CHUCKLES
This is a cavalry junction strap.
Now, it looks like gold, but it's not. It's actually bronze,
and it would sit on the breast of the horse.
So that's obviously been cleaned up quite a bit
since it came out of the ground. Was it covered in green verdigris?
Well, that is more or less the same condition it came out of the ground.
In fact, I've got a photograph just over here on the table, showing you,
-before we gave it a wash, there we go.
-Oh, my goodness!
-That's it there.
and that's what anaerobic conditions at the site do.
It's such weird preservation, isn't it?
Because on most sites, something like that
would have corroded and it would be green.
-Bright green lump.
-Yeah. It's just astonishing.
Like the sword, this would never have been casually abandoned,
and other finds suggest why the Romans might have been keen
to flee the northern tribes -
they had their wives and children with them.
I particularly love this.
-A baby boot. Because...
-Can I pick that up?
-Yeah, please do.
-No cavalryman is going to be able to squeeze his foot into that.
So we're not looking at an exclusive military site?
It's not just for soldiers. It's a real community.
These are, you know... In fact, the soldiers may well have been
outnumbered by children wearing shoes like this.
Another team digging an even older stage of the fort this year
also made some incredible finds.
You've had more letters emerging from the sediment at Vindolanda.
Well, we've had a haul of 25 tablets,
some of which have been written by a guy called Masculus
to his commanding officer -
and this is about 92 AD,
so a little bit before this barrack was operational.
He's a Decurion, he's a cavalry commander.
He's asking for leave for his men,
and he's saying, "Look, can I have leave for 30 of my men?"
and then he changes his mind.
He just crosses the 30 out and writes 50 above.
-Doesn't even bother rewriting the letter.
So he's obviously got a really good relationship
with his commanding officer.
Back in the barracks, in the layer associated with the rebellion,
the team eventually found nine more tablets.
It looked as though you had found tablets from the same time as this?
We have, we found about ten writing tablets
from this cavalry barrack.
You know, from the rooms where things like this sword came from.
So can one of those documents tell us about that moment,
or the build-up to that moment in time,
when these artefacts have to be deposited?
We've got documents from the room where the sword was found.
Does it mention the owner of that sword?
We're just going to have to wait to find out.
It's a long process to decipher the tablets.
It takes 6-12 months for them to be conserved and then to be decoded -
but, yeah, we've got some fun to come.
I can't believe you've got letters from the same room.
That's just brilliant -
and come back next year and tell us what they say.
OK, you've got a deal.
More analysis of the swords and those new letters
will give us even greater insights into the early phase of the fort.
But this fantastic season at Vindolanda
has already revealed that the Romans may have been far more vulnerable
in the early years of conquest than we'd ever previously thought.
Our next dig takes us nearly 200 miles north,
to the remote Scottish island of Iona,
as archaeologists look for evidence
of one of Britain's earliest monasteries,
and traces of its legendary founder.
Iona is Scotland's most famous sacred site,
and its history goes back nearly 1,500 years
to one man, Saint Columba.
Arriving in 563 AD, he put Iona on the map.
From this remote island parish,
legend says he set out to convert Scotland
from a country of heathen barbarians to one full of Christians.
Columba built a monastery here with 12 followers.
It became a celebrated centre for theological learning,
but in the centuries after Columba's death,
legends say that Iona grew into an important pilgrimage site,
drawing Christians from across Europe -
and scholars have even suggested that its layout
may have been based on the holy city of Jerusalem.
With no trace of the original buildings,
we have no idea if these legends are true.
This year, archaeologists are determined to find out.
Here we are, day one of three weeks of excavation
on the famous Iona Abbey.
Adrian Maldonado is leading the team from Glasgow University.
They're following in the footsteps of Professor Charles Thomas,
who in 1956 first excavated here
to see if he could find evidence of the legendary monastery.
He found some intriguing remains,
but lacked the technology to date them, and the mystery endured.
We're going back to a few of his trenches here at Iona,
and re-excavating them,
and recording them to a modern standard.
The present abbey was built in the 13th century,
600 years after Columba's death,
but the team are hoping to find evidence
of the original monastic site around it,
so they start investigating what looks like the boundary, or vallum.
Most monasteries are surrounded by an outer enclosure,
and in Columba's time,
this would have been an earthen bank and ditch...
..but one of the first things the team finds
is a memento left by the 1950s team.
-The archaeology of the archaeologist.
Well, they did say that this year they were digging this trench,
it was monsoon-like conditions.
-So it's quite possible that they've had a bad season and spent
quite a lot of time drinking, by the look of it.
Fortunately, this 21st-century team are having better weather,
and Cathy soon finds some organic matter she can use
to date the vallum.
At the very base of the ditch,
we've come across a nice reddish, peaty layer,
and we're able to see remnants of straw,
or maybe even silver birch twigs,
though I suspect it's a deliberate deposit.
So, hopefully, if we're able to date this material,
we'll be able to date something that happened
fairly soon after the ditch was cut.
Meanwhile, Adrian has been using geophysical surveying equipment
to map out the full site.
This means that, without having to excavate, he can trace the remains
of buildings lost beneath the ground, and hopefully establish
the size and complexity of that original monastery.
So, we've been doing geophysical survey this week,
alongside the trenches down below us,
and what it's shown is that the vallum did indeed
continue through all these fields,
and so there's a possibility
that we're looking at a monastic sanctuary, enclosure or vallum
that has grown over the years,
and they've had to expand.
These results suggest that a huge bank and ditch
enclosed an area of nearly nine hectares.
And the radiocarbon dating analysis from Cathy's vallum sample
reveals that it was constructed as early as the seventh century.
the team want to find out what stood within this enclosure,
as a major site of pilgrimage
would have had a number of different buildings
for pilgrims to visit and pray in.
This is day six of the Iona project,
and we're opening a new trench here, as you can see.
In the 1950s, Thomas exposed an intriguing selection of stone wall.
To see where it leads, the Glasgow team extend their trench.
We've discovered this nice, curving piece of wall here,
which would seem to indicate an apse or an apsidal end of a building,
and that's really exciting, because that indicates a church.
The apse is a curved stone wall, usually found in churches...
..but lab analysis suggests that this wall could date back
to the seventh century, which would be extraordinary,
because, at this time, almost all churches were built from wood.
Whatever this structure was, this date, if true,
would make it the earliest stone-built feature ever discovered
on a Scottish monastery,
suggesting that Iona was a site of stature and importance...
..and in the same trench,
the team found evidence for industry at the site.
This big black layer that runs through here
is absolutely chock-full of iron slag.
The result of producing iron
for, presumably, fittings for the abbey.
It really was a hive of activity.
It wasn't just a quiet place of contemplation.
Even more excitingly, there's evidence that this community
had international connections.
This is probably fairly local material,
but other materials they were bringing in,
like tin and gold and silver from other places,
glass from the Mediterranean and so on -
so, very wide-ranging contacts,
bringing all this material to the site, because it was so important.
This is such an intriguing site - but has the mystery been cracked?
Does the evidence suggest that early Iona was big enough
to have been a pilgrimage site?
And does the layout resemble Jerusalem at all?
I've invited Adrian into the lab to talk through the evidence so far.
It's fantastic to go back to such an important site,
in terms of the early church in Scotland, and Saint Columba himself.
What we have of him is the legend that grows a century after he dies.
So, in terms of the layout of the whole site, then,
I think the important thing that you've discovered
-seemed to be this vallum.
So what's marked here and picked out in red is the vallum,
or the monastic enclosure of the site.
This was a massive ditch which went down three metres into the earth
and presumably the rampart, the bank on the inside of that,
-would have been the same height again.
So this is much more than you need
to mark this sort of sacred enclosure.
And what about Iona being this Jerusalem of the North,
a site for pilgrimage?
Do you really think it was that important
as an early pilgrimage site?
This is one of the things that comes out of these excavations.
What we've got here is this schematic layout,
and this would have been the main church.
This is the tomb of Saint Columba.
The high crosses would have been around here,
and Saint Oran's church, which is still there and still in use,
just over here.
So this is our vision of the layout
of that early medieval monastery,
and this is the schematic plan of Jerusalem, of the Holy Land.
If you look at the, sort of, two schematic plans put together,
you can see the similarities of the church to the east, the true cross,
and the enclosure of the chalice being where the well is now.
So you think they're trying to recreate the layout of Jerusalem,
effectively, on Iona. When is this happening?
Can you put a date on this?
Well, it seems to be happening
-from as early as 100 years after Columba dies.
-So, which century?
So this is the end of the seventh century.
And do you think this layout is crucial
-to the experience of pilgrims visiting the site?
If you imagine the sort of graded entrance,
so by the time you come down and you're there,
you are faced with the tomb of Saint Columba. You're in the shrine.
You are sort of overwhelmed,
you are experiencing or getting as close to heaven on earth
as you can possibly get without going to Jerusalem itself.
It's quite an extraordinary thing to do.
-It's like early medieval virtual reality.
-That's one way of putting it, sure.
Spanning nearly 15 centuries,
Iona is a hugely complex site,
but the traces of early monastic Christianity
are still there to find...
..and this new excavation has provided datable evidence,
taking us right back to the earliest monastery on the island.
In our next dig, we cross to the east of Scotland, to Carnoustie,
where a chance find in farmland is changing our understanding
of how British society was organised during the Bronze Age,
3,000 years ago.
Sometimes archaeologists will choose a particular site to excavate,
with certain questions in mind or specific hypotheses
that they want to test,
but a lot of British archaeology is carried out at sites
that are going to be developed.
The archaeologists move in first,
to excavate and glean what information they can,
before the developers turn up,
and a new road or housing estate is built.
Now, these sites can often produce surprising
and unexpected discoveries.
This was the case when a team came to Carnoustie to excavate a field
before it was converted into two school football pitches.
They already knew of intriguing crop marks in nearby farmland,
which hinted at a prehistoric settlement in the area,
but what they found at Carnoustie would exceed all their expectations.
This was where we started topsoil-stripping in 2016,
and during the course of removing the topsoil,
we unearthed a number of buildings, all prehistoric in date.
They had found the remains of a group of roundhouses,
suggesting something incredibly rare - a Bronze Age village.
In the houses, the team unearthed domestic items,
like pottery fragments and weaving tools -
but the best was yet to come.
Well, we were proceeding to strip topsoil
across the site with a machine,
and one of my colleagues saw something on the ground.
You could tell straightaway it was a blade,
and lying next to it there was another object
with a gold decorated end to it,
and we realised very quickly
that we had something very important on our hands.
The sword and the gold object were so fragile
that the team brought the whole 80-kilogram block of soil
back for excavation in their Glasgow lab.
-Oh, man! Wow!
I did not see that from a photograph. Wow.
What they'd found was a weapons hoard.
Bronze Age weapons are often found in water or boggy ground.
They're thought to be religious offerings...
..but finding a hoard in the middle of a village is very rare,
suggesting that these weapons might be personal possessions,
buried close to home.
As the soil fell away,
the true magnitude of the discovery was revealed.
The sword's blade shows visible signs of combat.
Not only that, lying next to it was an exceptionally rare spearhead,
decorated with gold and bearing the remnants of the fur
that it was once wrapped in.
The fact that these organics survived, it's just unprecedented.
It's nice to think that these items weren't just ceremonial,
they may well have had actual use in warfare.
It's incredibly unusual to have this level of decoration
on a Bronze Age weapon.
It does suggest that it must have belonged to a powerful man...
..but what's really fascinating is that, just 17 miles away,
at Pyotdykes Farm,
an ornate, almost identical spearhead was found.
So, is it possible that Northern Britain was controlled by a network
of Bronze Age warrior chiefs?
To find out more, I've asked Blair to join me in the lab.
And Blair, here they are.
-Absolutely wonderful find.
-Yes. It was an extraordinary find.
And what about the sword, then?
Because I was intrigued to see that you think it's been used.
Some of these nicks, you think, then, are not, are not from,
you know, sort of, damage since it's been in the ground,
but actually damage from having been used as a weapon.
I think so. These do look as though they are of some antiquity.
So that's really important,
cos it means it's not just a ceremonial item,
it's actually an item which was designed for use.
Well, that's right. Good agricultural land
was probably very, very sought after and desirable,
so you might have to fight to acquire it,
and then you might have to fight to retain it,
so the weapons could well have been, in part,
about controlling your territories.
Do you have a precise date for this hoard yet?
Yes, we do.
That arrived, actually, only yesterday...
-..and the date that was returned was around 1000 BC,
which really fits very nicely into this sort of
late Bronze Age period in Scotland.
In the Bronze Age, a new social hierarchy emerged,
and it's possible that the owner of these weapons
belonged to one of an elite group of high status warriors.
When you look at this, with this gold detail,
-surely that is high status.
-Well, that is, yes.
I mean, there have been a handful of these
found in Britain and Ireland before,
so it's beginning to look like subdivision and occupation
of the landscape was perhaps controlled
by Bronze Age overlords, if you like -
very wealthy, powerful men who governed,
managed, almost, parishes of land, if you like.
And what about the rest of the analysis?
Cos I know that you've also been looking at the metal itself,
to try to determine where it's come from.
That's right. Well, the gold has been looked at,
but it doesn't seem to come, originate from Scotland,
so it's possibly from Ireland or England.
So we're seeing, we're seeing connections with the wider world.
-I think this is an absolutely fantastic site.
We've got a link back, potentially, to a Bronze Age chieftain
who lived 3,000 years ago,
and I'm sure this isn't the last we're going to hear of Carnoustie.
The Carnoustie hoard is remarkable.
Its burial in the village suggests that it was simply being hidden
or stored, rather than being an offering to the gods.
It calls into question the interpretation
of other Bronze Age hoards...
..and some of the treasures at the National Museum of Scotland
can help us set the finds at Carnoustie
in the wider context of the European Bronze Age.
The wealth of Scotland's Bronze Age elite wasn't built in isolation,
it was the result of extensive trading networks
that connected Scotland, not only with the rest of the British Isles,
but with mainland Europe beyond.
As curator Alison Sheridan is about to show me,
with the museum's spectacular Balmashanner hoard,
found not far from Carnoustie.
It's a wonderful selection of things.
-And is that amber?
-Yes, it is, and it's got a fantastic story,
because we think that the amber started its life as raw material
in Denmark, and then was taken over to Ireland,
where it was made up into the necklace -
and of course Scotland was kind of midway between them.
So it was a kind of stop-off point on these trade routes?
Yeah - but I think it's more than that, so that the elite,
who were living in this part of Scotland,
would have been very active players in this interaction network,
so if we look at these little things here, they're called tress rings,
because we think they were worn in the hair,
these are of a fashion that you find elsewhere in Ireland,
but also in Belgium and northern France.
So this hoard, much like the weapons found nearby in Carnoustie,
suggests a region where warrior chieftains
acquired valuable objects, using their international connections.
The Carnoustie sword and spearhead are not just weapons.
They are emblems of power and status.
As part of propping up their power structure,
it was important for people to demonstrate
that they were in contact with their counterparts elsewhere -
and so they were sharing their fashions.
They looked alike, they had the same weaponry,
and they indulged in things like feasting, so you would invite,
you know, your counterparts to come.
They also had combat, you know, set piece combat.
Whether they actually invited people to come and dine
and then killed them all, we don't know -
but, yes, it was this international culture club,
if you like.
It may just be that the Bronze Age warrior
who buried his weapons at Carnoustie
was part of this well-connected European high society.
Our next dig transports us into the Roman period,
and to East Lomond in Fife,
where a newly discovered settlement is completely rewriting the story
of the mysterious Pictish tribes of Scotland.
Our understanding of the people who lived beyond that northern boundary
of the Roman Empire in Britain,
people that the Romans would later refer to as the Picts, is hazy,
and it is largely based on the classical sources.
To the Romans,
the people of Scotland were savages and barbarians.
When the Romans invaded Britain nearly 2,000 years ago,
they failed to conquer the northern tribes.
Since they couldn't subdue them,
they kept their barbaric neighbours at arm's length
by building Hadrian's Wall,
and they lumped them together as the painted people, or Picti.
Now new archaeological discoveries
are challenging that Roman view of history,
leading us to question what that relationship
between the Romans and their neighbours
to the north of Hadrian's Wall was really like.
In 2014, a team discovered an ancient settlement
on East Lomond Hill.
What the archaeologists revealed was something quite extraordinary.
The remains of a sophisticated metal workshop from the seventh century.
It suggested a rather different picture from the painted savages
that the Romans had earlier described.
This year they're digging even deeper,
to see if they can find more evidence
to challenge the Roman caricature of the Picts.
You join us here at East Lomond Hill fort,
where we're on day two of our excavation,
and suffice to say, we're revealing some really interesting finds.
Quickly, they unearth something that looks neither savage nor barbaric.
Oh, my gosh! It's big, isn't it?
Nice, there, Roy. That's great work.
Roy's just excavating what we think may be the large part
of a shale armlet. It's looking to be in a very good state.
What do you think of that, Roy?
It's incomplete, but an armlet like this
would have been a highly valued piece of jewellery.
So that's been sitting there since the Iron Age.
-We've just got it out.
This Pictish armlet dates to the Roman period,
and suggests that the Picts at this site
had a liking for beautiful things.
It's only going to get better
as we go into the latter part of the second week
and into our third week here.
Oliver's right. On day 15,
there's fresh evidence of refined Pictish tastes.
OK, Bob, you've just made a really nice discovery here.
Do you want to take us through it?
-I thought I saw something there.
And lo and behold, out came this beautiful little bead.
Mmm. It is beautiful.
Shall we lift it out and just have a...
-..a little closer look at it?
So that looks, probably, Roman.
I did not expect to be pulling that out of the ground today.
Yeah. Beautiful thing.
This glass bead is almost certainly of Roman origin.
Could its presence here suggest the Romans and Picts
were not the sworn enemies we'd understood them to be?
Are you pleased with that?
-Oh, I am absolutely delighted.
And then, on the final day,
there is further evidence of contact with the Romans.
There's only literally half an hour left of the day,
so let's see what you've got. Let's hope it's something special.
It has got a lip on it.
Do you think it's a rim of something?
-Yeah, it looks like it could be.
-Very fine glassware.
So this could be Roman glass?
-Could be. That's a nice wee find to finish on, eh?
-It certainly is.
This fragment of glass may have formed part of an elaborate
Roman drinking vessel...
..but the big question is,
how did these Roman items get here, and what is the truth
about the relationship between the Romans and the Picts?
I've invited the team into the lab to share their conclusions.
What an intriguing site.
It certainly suggests that Hadrian's Wall
wasn't this impenetrable barrier between the north and the south.
You've got a site that's 152 miles north of Hadrian's Wall,
and there's clearly Roman contact going on here,
which has not been known about before.
Until 2014, we didn't know this existed.
So this is a surprise to us, as well.
So that is the shale bracelet, isn't it?
-The shale armlet.
-That's the shale bracelet.
-Can I pick it up?
-It's quite light.
-And you can see the working marks on the shale.
-And unfinished, of course.
And it is clearly a status symbol, you know?
-This is an armlet, it's supposed to go up on the bicep.
How do you know it's unfinished?
Well, normally, they're finely polished -
when you get the complete piece, it's meant to be a beautiful ring.
So this has just been kind of roughed out.
-And that's part of its value.
It takes a long time to make.
-It's a big investment in an agricultural community, you know,
somebody has to really work at that.
So when does this date to?
So we can be firmly confident that we're looking at late Roman period,
3rd, 4th century AD.
This armlet alone challenges the Roman portrayal of the Picts.
These were clearly a people who had developed refined tastes...
..but the Roman items on the site
beg the question of what kind of contact
the Picts actually had with those invading Romans.
They are all shards of late Roman beakers,
These are what we think are feasting gear.
And they've come from the Roman world,
so probably produced in Roman Britain itself,
so, 3rd or 4th century.
How did they get here?
Well, it doesn't necessarily speak of violent raiding to us.
You know, is there a role for gift-giving here?
Is this a diplomatic gift?
There's a relationship here.
So the Romans are telling us their story of the Picts
being unreconstructed barbarians,
troublesome neighbours to the north.
This suggests there was a different kind of relationship going on, then.
The earliest sources, when you look at Tacitus's Agricola,
is as much propaganda, I suspect,
as an accurate description of what they were encountering.
It's not all barbaric.
It's actually quite a civilised engagement.
I just think it's extraordinary, you know,
that we're no longer seeing the north beyond the wall
as being this sort of isolated land,
but actually somewhere that is - it is connected.
The finds at this year's dig are convincing proof
that there was a connection between the savage Picts
and the civilised Romans...
..and another recently discovered find,
now here at the National Museum of Scotland,
even suggests that this interaction was deliberate Roman policy.
In 2015, archaeologists came across
one of the most decisive pieces of evidence to date -
a hoard of Roman silver,
buried deep in the Pictish heartland,
and I'm about to get a sneak preview before it goes on display.
Oh, this is so exciting,
being able to open the cabinet up and get close to the objects.
So these are objects which are part of your brand-new silver exhibition.
Yeah, this is for Scotland's early silver,
we've got this new find from Fife, never seen on public display before.
And there are some really large pieces here.
It has been hacked about, but you can kind of see what they were.
You can now, thanks to the conservation.
-This came to us as 400 fragments.
Our Conservators have been working at it for hundreds of hours,
to try and piece the various bits together -
but this isn't just a barbarian chopping things to bits,
this was done inside the Roman world
and sent north as a weight of silver.
Right. So it's not actually about the objects any more,
-it's just about their monetary worth?
-Yeah. This is just bullion.
This is sending a weight of silver north to buy peace
or pay off mercenaries or something like that.
So, what are these vessels, then?
You've got what looks like a bowl here,
and then you've got what looks like a silver brandy snap.
Yes. Yeah, most likely, we think, a flawed casting,
they've tried to make a vessel from it, it's failed,
so they've just - rather than melting it down again,
they've used it as a weight of silver.
Now, are you sure that's the way round it was happening?
I mean, couldn't this have been troublesome Picts
marauding south of the wall, pillaging and plundering,
and then taking Roman silver back with them?
Well, that used to be the interpretation of this stuff,
but when you look at it carefully,
you find a lot of it is cut up to regular shapes, to regular sizes,
and often to Roman weight standards.
So you can see with this one, the cut marks down the side there.
-Although the cut marks are quite rough,
it's quite carefully done as a quarter of a vessel.
Is it all about maintaining peace,
or is there something that the Romans want north of the wall?
Well, it may not just be about peace,
it may also be about soldiers.
Because at this time, the Roman army is getting stretched,
and they're drawing in, effectively, mercenaries
from a variety of other areas.
So this could equally be the payment to somebody
-who's been serving in the Roman army.
-It sounds extraordinary,
to think that there could have been Picts being recruited
into the Roman army. So when does this date to?
This dates to round about AD 300,
and this is actually the earliest evidence we have from across Europe
for this kind of hack silver coming north beyond the frontier.
So it's a frontier-wide policy
of trying to control what's happening to the north.
This amazing hoard transforms our understanding of the conflict
between the British tribes and the Romans.
Perhaps the relationship wasn't always as hostile
as we previously thought.
Our next dig takes us to Newark, and to a very definite conflict,
over 1,000 years later.
Archaeologists here are shedding light
on one of the most bitter and divisive moments in our history -
the English Civil War.
The countryside surrounding Newark may look green and pleasant today,
but 370 years ago, this was the site of a long drawn-out siege,
so gruelling it would see the King and his Royalist Cavaliers
surrendering to Parliamentarian Roundheads
fighting for Oliver Cromwell.
The siege of Newark was one of the most pivotal moments
in British history, marking the end of four years of conflict
that tore the country apart and eventually saw the monarch deposed -
but, remarkably, traces of the siege itself are thin on the ground.
We tend to associate the Civil War with short, brutal battles,
but the defining moment came with the siege of Newark,
which lasted six months and drew in around 16,000 soldiers
from across the country.
Now, a team of archaeologists from
the Universities of Central Lancashire and Sheffield
is digging here, hoping to find precious evidence
of how this decisive siege played out on the ground.
What we're excavating at the moment is what we call a redoubt.
It's a very, very small square fortification to put a gun on.
We've got evidence for the rampart, which you'd expect,
so, hopefully, as the day progresses,
we'll start to go down even further and find evidence of occupation.
This gun battery was part of a network of fortifications
laid by the besieging forces,
and this one was built by Scottish troops,
recruited by the Parliamentarians to help starve out the Royalists
holed up in the town.
Evidence of the besiegers quickly emerges.
We've just come across a really, really exciting find.
Sabrina here is literally just lifting it from the earth
as we speak -
and this actually has to be the best find we've found so far.
Sabrina's intriguing find
looks like it might have been part of a uniform.
It's got two rivets here,
which means it attaches to a belt.
Some beautiful 17th-century decoration on it...
..and complete examples of these have actually been identified
as sword belt fittings.
You'd have three of them, they'd have little hooks,
and from those hooks would be suspended your scabbard.
So this is really, really important,
cos actually it's the first type of proper military find that we have
that really, really shows us that the Scots were here
during the final siege.
Unlike the Civil War battles, the siege lasted six months,
and Rachel and the team are hoping it will give a rare glimpse
into the lives of the soldiers on the front line.
As you can see, we're getting the final, last few crumbs
-from the trench, but...
That's rather lovely, Sean.
It is, in fact, a little copper alloy thimble,
so quite a wonderful find.
And as they dig deeper,
the team gets further glimpses of the lives of the soldiers here.
Just out of here, we've just come across this.
So we've had bits of clay pipe before.
As you can see from this one, it's a really nice example.
It's still got the little spur on it,
which you can sort of rest on a table -
but also, because we've got bits of the bowl,
we can estimate how large it would have been,
and therefore what sort of date,
and this is probably a 17th-century pipe.
Who knows, you know? 350 years ago,
you might have had a Scotsman sat on this very spot,
puffing away and contemplating the hardships of sieges.
The small Scottish redoubt gives us a fascinating window
into the lives of 17th-century soldiers.
Now I want to find out how they fitted into the bigger story
of the Civil War and helped to bring down a king.
So I've invited Rachel's colleague, Hugh Willmott, into the lab.
Well, thank you, Hugh, for stepping into the fray.
Rachel can't be here,
cos I understand that she's due to have her baby imminently.
So I can recognise some of the things
that she was showing us there.
And it's really interesting to get these insights
into the sort of everyday lives of the soldiers.
-I mean, I love this thimble.
-Would that have belonged to a soldier?
I mean, it's unlikely that there may have been women present on this site
cos it's a very small fortification,
and if you look at the size of it, it's actually quite a large thimble.
It is, my finger's rattling around in it.
-Can you fit it on your finger?
I mean, that's a loose fit for me.
-That's a man's thimble!
-So, you know,
you could quite easily see a soldier mending his uniform
or something with that,
because obviously they had to rely on very limited supplies.
If their uniforms became tatty, they would have to repair them.
They wouldn't be able to get new ones easily.
And can we see where all these beautiful finds come from
-on this map? This is wonderful.
So we have Newark in the centre of the map,
and this is the Royalist fortification.
This is the Scottish headquarters, nicknamed Edinburgh.
-And the find came from this little sort of feature here,
which is marked as the Scots' Redoubt,
which is the square feature that Rachel was excavating.
And is it important to the Parliamentarians
to have this extra assistance from the Scots?
Oh, it's crucial. It tips the course of the war.
Prior to the Scots joining in 1643,
the two parties are at stalemate, pretty much.
The Scottish army adds extra numbers,
but also it breaks some of the power base of the Royalists
who are in the North of England.
So, eventually, the Parliamentarian forces
that are laying siege to Newark, they would win this siege.
They do. They do. They have to wait six months,
and it's really not their own actions that win the siege,
it's actually this outbreak of plague that occurs in the spring,
and eventually they do actually give up the town.
This gun battery gives us not only a rare picture of the Scottish troops,
key to toppling the monarchy,
but also a unique insight into a defining chapter in the Civil War.
Our final dig takes us to the far reaches of northern Scotland,
to the island of Sanday in Orkney,
and an investigation into an ancient settlement
of Britain's earliest farmers.
Generations of archaeologists have excavated these islands,
revealing that Orkney was home to thriving settlements
5,000 years ago,
including the remarkably preserved houses of the Neolithic village
of Skara Brae...
..but until recently,
there had been no sign of human habitation on this part of Sanday.
So when archaeologists chanced upon what looked like Bronze-Age tools
sticking out of the beach at Cata Sands, they were really excited.
Any discovery here provides us with a rare opportunity to find out more
about Orkney's amazing prehistory,
but the archaeologists are really up against it.
After thousands of years of lying hidden in the sands,
this site is in real danger of being swept away.
So can the team act fast enough and recover those precious clues
before they're finally lost forever?
The team can only dig when the tide is out.
22nd of August.
Tide coming in.
As you can see, it's going to get higher day by day.
It's hard to imagine, perhaps, in this sunshine,
but they are at the mercy of the elements.
The weather can change at any time.
You can see quite clearly here
that the storm over the last couple of days
has actually exposed quite a lot of the archaeology,
and this is essentially how this site has been first exposed
and then eroded.
As the surface layers are removed,
the team discovers what they'd hoped for - the outline of a house.
We've now defined the edge of the wall quite nicely.
So now we're in a position where we've got the internal floor layers
now showing up.
The next job, now that we've defined the location of the house,
is really to get into these floor deposits
and try and see what was going on in the house.
They suspect that this is part of a late Neolithic settlement,
built, like Skara Brae, 5,000 years ago,
and from their finds they think that it lasted into the Bronze Age...
..but as they dig further,
they quickly make an unexpected discovery.
The shape of the hearth is surprising.
Unlike the square hearths of Skara Brae, it's rectangular,
which suggests it could date to much earlier.
Could this be evidence of the predecessors of the people
who founded Skara Brae?
If so, it will offer a rare opportunity,
promising to reveal more about Britain's first farmers
and how they transformed the landscape.
I've invited Vicky and Jane into the lab
to show me those prehistoric stone tools that first alerted them
to the existence of the site at Cata Sands.
What an incredible site.
-It is amazing, isn't it?
How did you discover it?
Well, we were walking along that beach one day
when it was really, really windy,
so we had have our noses really close to the ground
to stop the sand getting in our eyes,
and we started seeing tools,
much like these, actually, these great big, ugly-looking things.
See, I find that quite amazing,
that you walked along the beach and looked at those
and thought they were anything other than just natural rocks -
but they're not natural.
No, they're actually Bronze-Age tools
that were used for cultivation.
So, this is a roughly shaped mattock,
so you can see the business end is down here,
and it would have been hafted here.
-So these are flakestone bars, and this is the same kind of idea,
only this one was used as the point of a plough,
so these are very characteristic of the early Bronze Age.
-These are Bronze Age, are they?
But you think you've got earlier layers there, as well?
Yes, so this key artefact, if you look at it...
On that side, it has a dimpled area, and then if you turn it over...
It's extremely flat, isn't it?
-It's completely flat. So that has been ground flat.
So this is a grinder and it's also called a Knap o' Howar grinder,
because they come from an early Neolithic site
called Knap o' Howar on Papa Westray,
so that would be associated with grinding grain -
but in the very early Neolithic time,
when people were first farming in Orkney.
So it's pushing it back and back and back.
This looks like it could still be Bronze Age,
then you're going back in time and saying,
"Well, actually, this looks a bit more like early Neolithic."
-It is quite incredible, isn't it?
This point where we get the Neolithic taking hold,
because this is a massive change in people's lives.
They've been hunter-gatherers up until this point
and suddenly they become farmers.
Yeah, I mean, it is part of the broader early Neolithic story
of Britain, and that first occupation of Britain
by pioneering farmers.
And I think Orkney would have been an exceptionally rich environment
for people to move into.
It's got very fertile land.
It would have been perfect for early farmers coming in
with, er, grain and crops and animals,
and it would have been a wonderful place for them to live.
After so much archaeological scrutiny of Orkney,
it is incredible that Cata Sands is revealing new secrets
about our Neolithic ancestors.
It will be fascinating to see what future digs here can reveal
about this period of the Agricultural Revolution.
Discoveries like this show how archaeology
can change the story of Britain.
From upturning our outdated image of the relationship
between the savage Picts and the civilised Romans...
..and providing glimpses of the lost origins
of one of Britain's most famous sacred sites...
..to seeing what happened to the Romans
when the Britons rose up in rebellion.
Our ancestors made the country we live in today,
and archaeology enables us to reach back through the centuries
and touch their lives.
In our final episode,
we're returning to Vindolanda for a Digging For Britain special,
searching out the forgotten story of the horsemen
who defended Rome's most northerly frontier...
..and following a team of modern riders
as they recreate a Roman cavalry display
for the first time in 2,000 years.
This is one of the most challenging things that I have done.
Professor Alice Roberts explores some of this year's most exciting archaeological finds from the north of Britain. Each discovery comes straight from the site, filmed by the archaeologists themselves. Alice discovers the well-preserved writing tablets, swords and domestic items left by Romans at Vindolanda during a time of British rebellion. On the Scottish island of Iona, there are traces of a long-lost monastery and pilgrimage site that was originally built by the legendary saint Columba, and has been compared to Jerusalem. In the east of Scotland, a weapons hoard belonging to a wealthy Bronze Age warrior is unearthed.