5.1 Introduction

The Iron Age in Britain is widely recognised as transitioning from the Bronze Age around 800 BC; this date has been adopted by ScARF (Iron Age section) and Historic Environment Scotland (via ScAPA) as the beginning of the Iron Age in Scotland. It is defined here as extending to around AD 400, and sees significant technological advancements in metalworking, and the development of dramatic new monument forms, such as forts, souterrains, crannogs, brochs, duns and monumental roundhouses. There is also a significant material legacy of interaction with the Roman Empire both in terms of material culture and sites constructed during the Roman military campaigns and periods of occupation.

Defining the start of the Iron Age largely relies on the absence of Bronze Age metal work, notably that of the Ewart Park style which went out of use by sometime between 800–750 BC (Needham et al 1997). In the earliest part of the Iron Age (around 800–600 BC) its two key archaeologically identifiable attributes are the adoption of iron and the increasing emergence of enclosed settlements and monumental constructions such as forts. The beginning of the latter process remains elusive in the area and is largely recognised from the 6th century BC onwards, although recent results have indicated Late Bronze Age origins, as has been found elsewhere in Britain and Ireland. 

The area hosts a rich and diverse material record of the Iron Age. It boasts excellent upland preservation of hut circles, an abundant lowland cropmark record, and the monumental architecture, known to dominate the Iron Age, is found in great quantity and quality, in a variety of forms and across a range of environmental contexts. The region also has a long history of Iron Age and Roman research. Several significant thematic and landscape studies have taken place in recent decades, while developer and major infrastructure-led research are increasingly expanding our knowledge of the period, as is the impact of citizen-science community archaeology projects, such as the Tay Landscape Partnership Scheme.

This chapter provides a short regional overview for the Iron Age and its Roman interlude, with a brief history of research and a thematic assessment of the currently known archaeological resource, including the Roman presence and its material culture. Finally, recommendations are made for research priorities and questions for future work. In line with Historic Environment Scotland’s monument thesaurus, the term ‘fort’ is used for enclosed sites constructed by Iron Age communities, while forts constructed by the Roman army are prefaced either with the cultural term (Roman) or by military classification (Auxiliary or Legionary). As with the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age chapter, the term ‘hut circle’ is used for roundhouses where above ground features, such as an earth or stone bank, survives. While ‘roundhouse’ is used where no above ground remains survive, but a circular building has been identified as a cropmark, through geophysical survey, or by excavation. All radiocarbon dates given are calibrated.