8.3.5 Pre-burghal markets and townships

The latter part of the study period includes the development of pre-burgh townships, with archaeological evidence from the SESARF region providing critical data toward the chronology of settlement nucleation and urbanisation in Scotland. Historical sources from the time use the term urbs to describe a range of sites, from power centres like Dunbar to monasteries such as Coldingham, but these were not urban centres as we would understand them today, with dense settlement and roads. It is only from the early 12th century that kings of Scots began to formally create burghs, or urban centres formally chartered with certain privileges to support market activity (Oram 2011, 265-294). But excavations in urban centres like Dunbar, Edinburgh, North Berwick, Jedburgh and Dalmeny show early medieval trade activity which may help push the origins of urbanisation and permanent markets before this.

Lost hacksilver and coin hoards of the 10th and 11th centuries from Gordon, Cockburnspath and Jedburgh (SESARF 8.3.3 Coinage and bullion) were mainly sourced from neighbouring Hiberno-Norse and Anglo-Danish economic zones, but together they show participation in the wider trend toward monetisation in this period (Graham-Campbell 1995). Coin finds are now being supplemented with new metal-detected finds of silver ingots in around the area that would become the burgh of Roxburgh (Holmes 2005; Shiels and Campbell 2011).

Metal-detecting in the Glebe Field area of Aberlady has turned up the largest assemblage of this period from Scotland, including several Northumbrian stycas, dress pins, and even a fragment of a crosier (Lowe 1999, 55; Blackwell 2018, 107). This is the closest to a ‘productive site’ of middle/late Saxon wic-type encountered in Scotland so far. This evidecne is supported by recent excavations (Murray 2016), which provide structural context that suggests it was more than just a seasonal coastal market. The site and the wider assemblage remains unpublished.

There is a lot of potential to investigate the early medieval precursors of burghs and town formation in places such as North Berwick, Haddington, Jedburgh and Melrose but there have only been limited excavations in these towns to date (eg Hall and Bowler 1998; Dennison and Coleman 1998; Dingwall 2009). Keyhole excavations in North Berwick have revealed significant depths of stratigraphy and good preservation due to a build-up of wind-blown sands. Responsible metal detecting has already revealed important concentrations of 9th to 12th century weights, imported artefacts and early Scottish coinage in places such as Ayton and Maxton. While the concentration of early medieval burial evidence around Dunbar suggests an increasing population density in the early medieval period.