Moothill at Scone’s Palace about a thousand years old, archaeologists find

Archaeologists have discovered that the Moothill built at Scone Palace in central Scotland was built between the late ninth century and early 11th century.  The Moothill has been famous for being the site where Robert Bruce was crowned King of Scots in 1306.

Dr Oliver O’Grady of the MASS Project (Moothill and Abbey Survey Scone) was able to determine the date from scientific analysis of carbon samples retrieved during excavations of a massive ditch that once surrounded the Moothill.

Dr. O’Grady said: “There had been speculation that the mound was created by nobles travelling to Scone for the coronation of Robert the Bruce or that it could have been some kind of geological phenomenon but our dig shows that it was man-made and created at the very beginning of the Kingdom of Scotland.

“It doesn’t take away from the myths or the stories, which I think archaeologists and people in general have always taken with a pinch of salt, but what it does is it gives us our first firm foothold of the history of Moothill.”

He added: “Scientific studies on the artefacts and samples recovered during excavations in 2008 and 2009 have been ongoing since last year. This has thrown up fascinating revelations about Scone’s history but the new dates from the Moothill are by far the most significant discovery to date.

“The radiocarbon dates confirm Scone’s Moothill as one of Europe’s extraordinary survivals, unique in Britain and the first assembly-mound in Scotland to be scientifically dated. The lab results are in a sense nothing less than a birth certificate for Scotland.”

Scone Palace stands at a strategic location on the Tay, and in medieval times was an important centre of royal and ecclesiastical power. The church and monastery here was where kings were crowned, however it is extraordinary that such an important place has left so little trace above ground. During a period of more than 1000 years Scone developed from an early medieval royal settlement, into a great Augustinian abbey in the 12th century, before the Palace was created in the years around 1600.

During 2008 and 2009, archaeologists from the MASS project uncovered some of the secrets of the great royal abbey, the last vestiges of which were demolished in the 17th century. Geophysical surveys located the enormous scale of the abbey, with a 70 metre long church standing high above the canon’s cloister where they slept, ate, and worked on manuscripts and estate accounts, in between attending the eight daily services held within their glorious church.

Further surveys also produced evidence of a massive ditch which appears to have originally encircled the famous Moothill, the place where some of the first kings of Scots were proclaimed. The earth cast up from this ditch would have been used to build up the top of the mound, and the ditch would have separated off this place of royal ceremony.

Excavations, which saw part of the ditch exposed, produced valuable evidence of when the ditch was created and of the kinds of activities which went on around the Moothill in the centuries around 900AD when it was first documented. Excavated findings include the massive wall foundations that supported the great abbey church; ornate carved medieval sculptural fragments; delicate personal items including a decorative copper alloy pin and skeletal remains of burials within the floor of the church.

Source: Scone Palace

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