by Anne Crone & Erlend Hindmarch, with Alex Woolf
Excavation on the headland at Auldhame has revealed one thousand years of burial activity and liturgical practice, the nature of which changed over the course of the millennium. It has charted the birth and death of a church, from a monastic settlement established in the seventh century AD, which then became a parish church in the twelfth century and ultimately ended its life in the seventeenth century AD as the burial aisle/mortuary chapel for its wealthy landowners.
Undoubtedly, the most significant elements of the evidence from Auldhame are those for Anglian activity and for Norse contact. Between the mid-seventh and mid-ninth centuries AD a para-monastic community, associated with the Anglian saint Balthere flourished on the headland. Whether Balthere actually founded the community is moot, but he was revered locally throughout the medieval period and it is probably his connection, and possibly his burial there, that ensured the sanctity of the location for the next millennium.
The monastic settlement ceased to exist sometime towards the end of the ninth century AD, an event which may have been influenced by Viking activity around the coast. Among the ninth- and tenth-century graves was one of a young man buried with his spear, prick spurs and belt set, all of which associate him with the Norse communities around the Irish Sea. Could the young man be Olaf Guthfrithson, king of Dublin and Northumbria, who died in AD 941 shortly after attacking the East Lothian coast, or just a member of his war retinue?
The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland gratefully acknowledges funding towards the publication of this volume from Historic Scotland and AOC Archaeology.
Watch Dr Anne Crone’s lecture to find out more about the excavation of Auldhame.