Over two weeks in August 2022, a team of volunteers led by GUARD Archaeologists will be excavating Tinnis Castle Fort, a prominent rocky hill that overlooks the village of Drumelzier in Peeblesshire.
Initiated by the Arthur Trail Association in collaboration with GUARD Archaeology, the excavation will be focussed not on the ruins of Tinnis Castle itself but the underlying hillfort. Traces of vitrified stone from the ramparts that encircle the hill suggests that this fort was deliberately burnt to the ground, causing the rubble to melt. This phenomenon is apparent on over 100 hillforts across Scotland but is quite rare in the Scottish Borders. The nucleated layout of the fort, comprising a fortified summit and non-concentric enclosures around lower-lying parts of the hill, is similar to other early medieval forts in Scotland. Indeed, the name itself, Tinnis, derives from dinas, meaning fortress in the ancient Cumbric language that was once spoken across southern Scotland at this time.
This isn’t the only Dark Age connection with this part of the Scottish Borders. Since the twelfth century, Drumelzier has been associated with the Merlin legend. The original story was nothing to do with King Arthur but told the story of a man called Lailoken (his name was changed to Merlin after the story was transposed to Wales many centuries later), driven mad by the slaughter of the battle of Arthuret, his encounters with St Kentigirn, his gift of prophecy and his threefold death. What is key to the story is not only its association with real events and real people of the late sixth century AD but its unique association with Drumelzier and Tinnis Castle Fort.
But the excavation at Tinnis Castle is not looking for evidence for Merlin. Nor looking to see if the story was true. What the project is investigating is if there are any archaeological roots to the legend, examining if the archaeology is contemporary with the late sixth century AD when the story is set and therefore if the origins of the Merlin legend, not is historical veracity, lie in Drumelzier.
The excavation at Tinnis Castle will be undertaken in August 2022. And what’s more, the project will be investigating other nearby sites later in the year, that may reveal more of the Dark Age landscape of Upper Tweeddale. Check out the project’s fieldwork and post-excavation progress: dark-age-digs.com
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The project is funded by: