IT was the beginning of the Dark Ages when the Romans had left Britain after their last Western emperor had been deposed by a barbarian.

Now archaeologists have been given a grant to explore what exactly was happening 1,600 years ago on the edges of the once mighty Roman empire.

The experts from Aberdeen University have won £1 million of funding to find out, through new inter-disciplinary studies and excavations, more about the “lost kingdoms” of Northwest Europe that were Scotland and Ireland.

It is known Columba came from Ireland to Iona in 563AD and from there to mainland Scotland to talk to King Brude of the Picts on a hill above modern Inverness.

Gaelic-speaking Columba needed an interpreter to understand the form of Brittonic language the latter spoke, which was closer to modern day Welsh and there is some understanding of the societies they inhabited.

But how the Roman Empire and its successors changed in the first millennium AD, in the likes of France and Anglo-Saxon England is far better understood.

Now a major five-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust led by archaeologist Dr Gordon Noble, from the School of Geosciences at Aberdeen University, aims to fill in some of the gaps.

Dr Noble said advances in archaeological research would allow them to learn far more of the merging of the Picts with the Scots of Dalriada (Argyll) to set the foundations of Alba, later Scotland He said: “It is generally considered that in northern Britain and Ireland, the Roman presence had only been fleetingly felt and that these societies were less developed than those of the successor states of the Roman Empire, with a comparatively flat social and economic hierarchy and lacking in developed structures of power and governance.

“But, increasingly, the archaeological and historical evidence can tell a different story of complex, highly stratified societies with developed strategies of rulership and governance and sophisticated seats of power.”

He said the £1m grant would allow his team to conduct more extensive field investigations of sites like Rhynie in Aberdeenshire to learn how the post-Roman Kingdoms of Ireland and Scotland operated at a national and international level and how they compared in scale and character with those known elsewhere in Europe.

Sites also to be studied include Burghead, in Moray; Cashel in County Tipperary, in Ireland; and Dunseverick near the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. All nationally important sites, but which had not been subject to much modern archaeological investigation.

He said they would be trying to bring together all the evidence from historical sources and archaeological records, place names, environmental change information. This combined with new excavations should produce important new data.

He added: “There will be communication between all these specialisms to better understand how these kingdoms developed from the time of the Romans and beyond.”