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Rockcliffe: Fort

Date April 2002 - May 2002

Event ID 996009

Category Recording

Type Field Visit


Mote of Mark is surrounded by the remains of a substantial, carefully constructed, rampart, which used a lateral beamarrangement as an internal framework for the structure, with quarried granite blocks forming

a 4m wide wall filled with beach pebbles and capped with larger beach stones. The rampart appears to have had two entrances, on the NE and S sides respectively, and to have been built in a single phase. On

both the N and S sides there is significant evidence of burning within the rampart: on the N side this was of sufficient intensity to fuse parts of the rubble core into crude glass, through the process of vitrification,

whilst on the S side this merely reddened and degraded. In places the rampart sealed traces of occupation, including bone, slag and glass: these identified the earliest datable phase of occupation to as early as AD 550, although it is thought that occupation debris sealed by the rampart probably immediately predates it, rather than representing a prolonged period of activity; hence dating the rampart’s construction to the second half of the 6th century AD.

Gold, silver, iron and copper alloys were all worked at Mote of Mark, and remains of the tools and vessels, such as crucibles, used for refining metal, were all found on the site. In all, 482 fragments of moulds were found, along with 130 crucible fragments, showing that highly decorated, fine metalwork was produced on the site, along with more mundane items, such as pins and studs. In addition to the metalworking evidence, further artefacts were recovered from the site by Curle, Laing and Longley,

including imported continental glass, wheel-thrown pottery (including two unassociated sherds of Roman pottery) and large quantities of animal bone.

Curle’s excavations in the southern part of the central hollow located the focus for the metalworking. Here a three-sided stone-built structure was found, containing a loose, sooty, grey-black soil: this has been interpreted as either a bench or a revetment for a hearth, which later became used as a substantial midden area. Beside the stone structure was a large spread of clay: Curle interpreted this as a floor surface, however it has been subsequently interpreted as the clay used in the construction of the moulds, especially considering this lay nearby two spreads of pure sand, which suggest further industrial uses.

Although Curle believed Mote of Mark was originally occupied in the Iron Age (largely on the basis of two pieces of Roman pottery), the excavations conducted in 1973 and 1979 showed that the site was effectively occupied in a single phase. There was no evidence to suggest that the rampart had undergone several phases of construction, as Curle had postulated. Likewise, analysis of the metalworking moulds and imported pottery and glass showed that the site had been mainly occupied during the 6th and 7th

centuries AD. Even the two pieces of Roman amphora and sherd of D-ware suggest a mid-6th century date, and so prove to be contemporary with the ‘main’ phase of occupation.

It appears that occupation of the site began broadly concurrently with the building of the rampart, or possibly slightly before, and continued for about 100-120 years, with high-quality, non-ferrous metalworking being a focus of activity on the hill. It also appears that at some point during the mid- to

later 7th century the hill was attacked, and the defences burnt. Following this attack, the site fell out of use.

The artefacts and physical evidence of the fired rampart are vivid examples of the importance Mote of Mark must have held during the period of its occupation. The imported wares show that trading links

existed to France and Continental Europe over 1400 years ago, and that the notion of a total collapse into anarchy in the wake of Roman withdrawal from Britain is erroneous: people still required and traded in fine goods, and craftsmanship was far from lost. However, the vitrified rampart may still show that whilst sophisticated, the political and cultural groups that occupied Britain were still more than capable of warfare when required.

Generally appears to be in good condition. Slight wear on footpaths, with informal footpath made at N end of site. Heavy vegetation noted where excavations were carried out.

(ROC02 13)

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