The remains of a Dark Age kingdom mentioned in Arthurian legends and influential in the development of Medieval poetry may finally have been discovered in Scotland.
Archeologists working in Galloway at a rocky outcrop called Trusty's Hill believe the area was once the seat of power for the kingdom of Rheged, an ancient, powerful realm that faded into obscurity after the sixth century. What little historical record of its existence remains includes mentions of its powerful warrior king Urien, as well as some of the earliest Dark Ages poetry from a court bard named Taliesin.
Work on the site began in 2012, after the discovery of mysterious Pictish symbols carved into an outcropping of rocks near its entrance.
"What drew us to Trusty’s Hill were Pictish symbols carved on to bedrock here, which are unique in this region and far to the south of where Pictish carvings are normally found,’ dig director Ronan Toolis told GUARD Archaeology.
The Picts were a tribal confederation of peoples who lived throughout what is now eastern and northern Scotland. While little is known about them, they left behind some 350 intricately carved "Pictish Stones" for modern archeologists to ponder. Unfortunately, with no Pictish "Rosetta Stone" to offer translation, we still have no idea what the mysterious symbols mean.
When Toolis and his team began excavating the site, they were surprised to discover the remains of what appeared to be a royal stronghold dating back to AD 600. In addition to uncovering a timber-laced stone rampart, pottery fragments, a well, and other notable artifacts, they also found the ruins of a workshop used in the production of "high status metalwork" of gold, silver, bronze and iron.
"The people living at Trusty’s Hill were not engaged in agriculture themselves," excavation co-director Dr. Christopher Bowles told GUARD. "Instead, this household's wealth relied on their control of farming, animal husbandry and the management of local natural resources — minerals and timber — from an estate probably spanning the wider landscape of the Fleet valley and estuary. 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."
In their new book, "The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged," Bowles and Toolis say that Trusty's Hill was likely at the apex of a large social hierarchy. Furthermore, based on comparisons to other known royal strongholds dating back to the Dark Ages, its use of Pictish rock carvings indicates that it also may have had a role in royal inaugurations.
As for its connection to Rheged, the researchers believe its location, royal artifacts, and indications of a well-educated society point to the lost kingdom.
"The 2012 excavations show that Trusty’s Hill was likely the royal seat of Rheged, a kingdom that had Galloway as its heartland," adds Bowles. "This was a place of religious, cultural and political innovation whose contribution to culture in Scotland has perhaps not been given due recognition."