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Iron Age (800 BC–AD 400)

The Chesters, Drem (copyright RCAHMS)The Iron Age in Scotland was a time of technological progress, when bronze was superseded by the wider availability of iron ore for the manufacture of tools and weapons.

The main type of site that can be seen in East Lothian is the hill fort. These forts had multiple steep banks and ditches of turf and stone that would have been topped with a wooden palisade (a fence of upright stakes or timbers). Within the interior, platforms and circular banks show the sites of timber roundhouses.

However, there are also some forts, such as the Chesters, which are found on flat ground at the base of hills.

Many of these forts began in the Bronze Age when status and power of individuals seem to have become important. The landscape around each of these forts would have been extensively cultivated, with scores of smaller settlements scattered around. These forts may have been more symbolic centres of spiritual or tribal power rather than purely defensive.

There is debate about the function of Iron Age forts; were they mighty fortresses of warlords, ritual enclosures for gathering tribes together, or seasonal meeting places?

In this area forts may well have had multiple functions. Some, like Green Castle and Black Castle, were obviously defensive being situated on the top of hills, with steep ramparts and deep ditches. Others are less so, but seem to be guarding important routes like at White Castle in the Lammermuirs.

However, the Chesters seems to go against all the rules of a good fortress, being overlooked by a high hill.

It is also possible that the massive hill fort at Traprain Law was as much a ritual and trading centre as a place of defensive settlement.

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