Evidence of the earliest use of steel uncovered in East Lothian

ARCHAEOLOGISTS have identified examples of the earliest use of steel in the British Isles from a site in East Lothian.
The site, an Iron Age hill fort known as Broxmouth, was excavated in the 1970s, however the discoveries are only now being published.
As part of the re-examination of the findings at Broxmouth, new analysis of some iron artefacts has found that they can be dated to 490-375BC. Made from high-carbon steel which had been deliberately heated and quenched in water, the artefacts are the earliest evidence of sophisticated blacksmithing skills in Britain.

An aerial photograph of the excavation at Broxmouth.
An aerial photograph of the excavation at Broxmouth.

Experts are heralding the discovery as particularly significant for the insight it offers into the early development of such advanced manufacturing skills.
Technical skills at this level would only be achievable by specialist metalworkers who devoted their lives to perfecting and developing their craft – some might say the first example of a Scottish ‘knowledge economy’.
It is a poignant start to the story of steel manufacture in Scotland.
Broxmouth was occupied from the early Iron Age right through to its abandonment during Roman occupation, nearly 1,000 years later. Remarkably well-preserved roundhouses, elaborate hill fort entrances and an exceptionally rare Iron Age cemetery are among the other exciting discoveries made at the site.
Dr Gerry McDonnell, an expert in archaeological metals, said, “The process of manufacturing steel requires extensive knowledge, skill and craftsmanship. It is far from straightforward, which is why such an early example of its production tells us so much about the people who once occupied this hill fort.”