It was a manufacturing site on a scale not seen until the days of the industrial revolution almost 2,000 years later. 

At the dawn of the Iron Age, the people of what would one day be North East Scotland came together in their hundreds to forge metal on an unprecedented scale, working together to gather, smelt and shape raw materials into tools, and weapons.  

Now archaeologists probing the "stunning” site at Lochinver Quarry, near Elgin, are working on the theory its inhabitants were preparing for war.  

Their fight was against the Romans, who pushed far into Caledonia in the first century AD. But when battle was joined the invaders emerged victorious, and the ancient factory was razed to the ground - perhaps in retaliation for its role forging the tools of violence. 

A dig at Lochinver has uncovered vidence of large-scale metal working which dates back to the earliest days of recorded British history.

HeraldScotland:   Little reamains of the once-bustling site 

As many as 40 iron smelting sites have been found in a single location – only 25 have ever been found across Scotland - along with evidence of dozens of buildings, iron furnaces, hearths, rubbish pits, storage pits and timber palisades.  

But the area was suddenly abandoned, with evidence it was burned to the ground. Two valuable cauldrons, repatched after years of use, were hastily buried and piles of charcoal – a hugely valuable commodity – were left behind.  

On theory is that the site fell victim to the actions of Roman soldiers, following their victory over Caledonians at the Battle of Mons Grapius around AD 83. 

Little about the battle is known, with its location lost to history, but the Roman writer Tacitus describes a campaign into which culminates with a great victory over the 30,000 Caledonian tribesmen.  

It has been suggested that Lochinver was pressed into use on a huge scale before the battle, with a “working hypothesis” that it was destroyed by the victors as they scoured the countryside in the aftermath.  


One of the cauldrons dug up by the team

Dr Clive Waddington, of Archaeology Research Services Ltd, said the evidence being found at Lochinver made it different from Moray's other Bronze Age and Iron Age sites. 

"Something happens on this site that removes any further activity. We have got these burnt timbers and abandoned pits for making charcoal. 

"We have got pits with roasted ore ready for smelting but just abandoned." 

Dr Waddington said: "The battle was a big victory for the Romans and could explain why some sites were burned down, with Romans torching sites as they came through after the battle." 

More scientific work will have to take place before conclusions can be made, but the battle theory fits the timescale and gives an explanation for the “fascinating and unusual” level of activity.  

Dr Waddington said that Lochinver would have required a huge amount of manpower to operate, with the smelting of iron ore requiring people to work bellows to heat the dozens of furnaces for hours on end, while raw “plasticine”-like material was hammered and reheated to shape into tools and weapons.  

Ore was collected locally from bogs nearby, requiring teams of people to bring it to the site, which would have hummed with activity and lit up the night. 

The workforce would have numbered into the hundreds, and would have represented a huge communal effort. It will take several years to uncover all its secrets. 


An experimental furnace set up during an open day 

Archaeological Research Services Ltd and Aberdeenshire Council are investigating the site supported with funding from building materials company Tarmac. 

The work has been further supported by various universities including the radiocarbon dating at University of Glasgow, specialist artefact conservation at University of Durham and expert knowledge from the National Museum of Scotland. 

Dr Fraser Hunter, Iron Age & Roman Curator at National Museums Scotland, said: "The exciting results from the Lochinver excavations will make us rethink our views of Iron Age industries.  

“Iron was a fundamental raw material for tools and weapons, but its production on this scale is absolutely remarkable - far beyond what any one settlement would need. It seems the first industrial revolution around the Moray Firth took place in the Iron Age."