Living and Dying in Auldhame, East Lothian

On Monday 14th and Tuesday 15th March, Dr. Anne Crone, Project Manager at AOC Archaeology Group, delivered a lecture for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland titled ‘Living and Dying at Auldhame’ which summarised the recent work carried out in East Lothian. This has definitely got many of us at AOC Archaeology Group excited for the upcoming excavations of the Glebe Field, Aberlady and information on how to get involved, including dates, will be made available next week.

AOC Archaeology Group uncovered a milennium of burial activity during their excavations of the Auldhame headland after human remains were found there. A large number burials were excavated, dating from the 7th century to the 17th century AD, which show a change in burial practice through time. It has charted the birth and death of a church, from a monastic settlement established in the 7th century AD, which then became a parish church in the 12th century and ultimately ended its life in the 17 century AD as the burial aisle or mortuary chapel for its wealthy landowners.

Excavation work at Auldhame. On the right, you will see the excavated grave cuts of the individual burials.

The evidence closest in nature to our project, and possibly the most significant, is that for the Anglian activity and for Norse contact. Between the mid-seventh and mid-ninth centuries AD a monastic community, associated with the Anglian saint Balthere flourished on the Auldhame headland. Although no clear evidence for whether Balthere actually founded the community, 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. Although no surviving fragments of any high crosses were found to parallel Aberlady’s 8th century high cross fragment, there was evidence for socket stones which may have acted as bases for such items.

The monastic settlement declined and  was no longer referenced by the end of the 9th century AD, an event which may have been influenced by Viking activity around the coast. Among the 9th- 10th 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. It has been suggested that this young man could be Olaf Guthfrithson, king of Dublin and Northumbria, who died in AD 941 shortly after attacking the East Lothian coast, or possibly a member of his war retinue.


This lecture gave us a taster of a Society of Antiquities publication: Living and Dying at Auldhame, The Excavation of an Anglian Monastic Settlement and Medieval Parish Church by Anne Crone & Erlend Hindmarch, with Alex Woolf. If you would like more information on this publication, or indeed a chance to buy, please visit the Society of Antiquities of Scotland Publication webpage. For those who would like to hear this talk, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland do post their lectures on a YouTube Channel and this lecture will be available soon.



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