Trusty’s Hill: A Window on Dark Age Galloway

Just outside Gatehouse of Fleet is Trusty’s Hill, the site of an ancient vitrified hillfort. This site was first recorded by the Minister of Anwoth in the Statistical Account of Scotland of 1794, who noted:

‘On the south side of this fort, there is a broad flat stone, inscribed with several waving and spiral lines...near it likewise were lately found several silver coins, one of King Edward VI; the rest of Queen Elizabeth.’

It is these carvings that make Trusty’s Hill unique in Galloway. This is because, as antiquarians subsequently discovered, these are Pictish symbols: a double disc and z-rod and a Pictish sea-beast and sword.

But without any historical records for the occupation of this fort, only archaeological investigations could answer the question - What are Pictish symbols doing at Trusty’s Hill?

The Pictish symbols at Trusty’s Hill are thought to date to sometime between 500 AD and 900 AD, when south-west Scotland was inhabited by Britons, not Picts, so archaeologists and historians have long since puzzled as to why they were carved here, so far from the Pictish heartlands of north-east Scotland.

At the suggestion of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, the first excavation of Trusty’s Hill was directed by Charles Thomas in 1960. Charles Thomas’s excavation recovered a few artefacts such as part of a quernstone for grinding meal and a substantial amount of cattle, sheep and pig bones. However, hampered by atrocious weather and a shoe-string budget, his investigation did not recover any evidence that could explain the date of the hillfort, the status of its inhabitants or what the Pictish symbols were doing at Trusty’s Hill.

Members of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society did not give up on the puzzle of this site. So in 2012 the Galloway Picts Project was launched, with new excavations, surveys and techniques to find out and understand the archaeological context for the Pictish carvings at Trusty’s Hill, as a way of explaining what the symbols are doing at this hillfort in Galloway.

Next: The Excavation