The monument comprises the remains of a chapel and burial ground, set on a promontory and protected on the landward side by a broad ditch. The earliest chapel was probably a timber structure associated with graves dug between around AD 650 and 780. It is represented by the narrow foundation trench of one of the side walls. The chapel was replaced by a structure with clay-bonded stone foundations, built perhaps between AD 750 and 850. In addition, there is evidence for domestic structures that were probably used between AD 650 and 950, suggesting that the chapel may have been the focus for a monastic settlement. The site continued to be used intermittently as a burial ground until about 1700, during which time the chapel was also adapted and rebuilt. The remains exist as buried archaeological features preserved below ground. They were revealed by archaeological excavation in 2005, which aimed to excavate the most vulnerable graves but to leave deeper graves and the building foundations preserved beneath reinstated topsoil. The site lies about 4 km east of North Berwick and 700m ESE of Tantallon Castle, and occupies a cliff-top location overlooking the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock.
The short, shallow gully indicating a timber chapel suggests a building aligned NW-SE. The earliest stone-founded chapel partially overlaps the earlier structure but is aligned east-west. Its foundations are rectangular in plan but have slightly rounded corners, and measure externally 8.4m east-west by 6.0m transversely. The foundations, of fieldstone rubble, are between 0.85m and 1.1m thick, and at least 0.45m deep. A foundation trench 6m to the west suggests a possible timber extension on the west side, built during or after the years AD 850-1000. Eighteen excavated graves are known to date to approximately AD 650-1000 and cluster around the timber and stone chapels. Many of the other excavated graves date probably from the same period and it is highly likely that other contemporary, but unexcavated, burials remain preserved beneath the ground. The early remains on the headland are bounded to the west by a substantial ditch 9.5m wide and at least 1.9m deep. The small portion that was excavated contained animal bone dating to around AD 680-890, and the ditch was probably filled in during or soon after this period. The graveyard is bounded to the east by a much smaller ditch filled in at about the same time. Foundation trenches and post holes suggest that there were other structures on the headland broadly contemporary with the chapel, burial ground and ditch. Post holes adjacent to a curvilinear gully NE of the burial ground contained animal bone from about AD 650-820, and a gully defining a rectangular structure south-west of the burial ground and outwith the large ditch was infilled around AD 690-940. The recovery of animal bone, charred cereals and shellfish from sample excavation of the post holes and ditches strongly suggests that some of the buried remains are domestic in character and that people were living at the site as well as worshipping and burying the dead. Researchers believe this phase of activity ended around AD 900, although several burials from about 850-1000 may date from after abandonment of the settlement. Excavated burials of this date included a Viking grave containing grave goods that included a belt set, spurs and a spear head.
Archaeological remains of later date mainly comprise burials and foundations from the remodelling of the chapel. Excavation demonstrates a phase of burial dating to about AD 1000-1200, then another phase around 1200-1400. A mortared stone wall immediately beyond the east end of the earlier stone chapel probably derives from remodelling to form a parish church around 1200-1400. Substantial mortared stone foundations to the east, 1.5m thick and built of dressed red sandstone blocks, define a structure measuring 7.2m east-west by 5.8m transversely, which was probably a mortuary chapel built around 1500. Burials in the vicinity appear to date to as late as 1700.
The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. To the south-east, the scheduling extends up to but excludes a stone wall. The above-ground elements of all fences and stiles are specifically excluded from the scheduling to allow for their upkeep and maintenance.
Statement of National Importance
The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:
Archaeologists uncovered and recorded the remains of the stone chapel foundations in 2005, then covered the structures with topsoil with the aim of ensuring their future preservation. Ditches and the foundation trenches of other buildings were also uncovered and were subject to small scale sample excavation, but again the features were reburied. The 2005 excavation focussed on removing those human burials that were considered potentially vulnerable to future disturbance. In total, 242 burials were excavated and the position of a further 66 graves was recorded. However, additional graves exist beneath later burials and outwith the limit of the excavation (which probably covered about 90% of the burial ground). Accordingly, the excavators estimate that the burial ground may have contained 450-500 graves, implying that very approximately 250 burials remain buried and undisturbed. These burials may span the full time span of the graveyard, from about AD 650 to AD 1700. One of the excavated burials is a rare Viking grave, the most southerly yet found in Scotland, and others may exist in the vicinity. It is clear that future excavation could significantly enhance our knowledge of burial practice over 1000 years and reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, geographic origin, status and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life.
Researchers have argued strongly that the site was an early historic monastic settlement. The excavations demonstrate that the monument contains a wealth of information about the form and development of small chapels in the 7th to 10th centuries AD and about the populations that used them for worship and burial. The chapel shows a complex development sequence, with evidence for progression from an early timber structure to a stone-founded building, which was itself possibly extended westwards using timber. The buried remains have the potential to clarify the sequence of building, from the erection of the first chapel, through abandonment of the site as a probable monsastic settlement, to its likely re-use as a medieval parish church and burial ground, and then as a burial aisle.
The excavations demonstrate the presence of ditches, domestic structures and midden deposits as well as chapels and burials. The large ditch that closes the headland has seen little investigation and has the potential to reveal whether the site re-used an earlier Iron Age enclosure or was a new foundation. The preservation and condition of many of the buried archaeological remains is good, despite the impact of grave-digging and ploughing. It is clear that significant assemblages of artefacts and ecofacts remain, including animal bone, shell, pottery, charcoal and carbonised plant remains, such as barley grains. These can allow us to build up a picture of the activities that took place on the site, the physical conditions, and the environment and land cover at the time. They can further our understanding of society, ritual, economy, and agriculture. The presence of remains from different periods gives the possibility of exploring issues such as the duration of occupation, the extent to which occupation of the site was continuous and the nature of abandonment processes. There is also potential to compare the character of the probable monastic occupation of the site with its later use. Two probable domestic structures lie on the edges of the 2005 excavation area and further remains of these structures and others nearby can be expected to survive, with potential to enhance knowledge of domestic structures associated with early historic ecclesiastical sites. The excavations have produced a range of highly significant artefacts and ecofacts, including a fragment of a glass ink well and a dump of dog-whelks perhaps intended for extraction of a purple dye for book production. There is good potential that similar objects remain buried and can enhance our understanding of the site in future.
The site is part of a landscape that contains a variety of other remains. Probable later prehistoric finds by antiquarians include the paved floors of roundhouses on the cliffs above St Baldred's Cave, an unusual building and midden on the Greggan Rock just below the promontory, and numerous cist burials. Later remains clustered about 100m south-east of the monument include pottery and midden deposits that may relate to the Kirktown of Aldham and St Baldred's House, a 16th-century lairds house.
Small chapels of proven early historic date are rare in Scotland and few examples have been excavated to modern standards. The chapel at Auldhame was probably founded in the 7th or 8th centuries, soon after the Lothians fell under the sway of Anglians extending their influence north and west from Northumbria. Cist graves appear absent from the early phases of burial suggesting a new foundation, perhaps under Anglian influence, rather than retention of an established British burial place.
The excavators suggest the site was a monastic settlement, the ditch closing the neck of the peninsular acting as the 'vallum monasterii' that divided the monastery from the secular world. At 0.43 ha, the enclosed area at Auldhame is rather smaller than at many comparable monastic sites (Hoddom 18 ha, Iona 8 ha, Portmahomack 4 ha, and St Abbs Head 3 ha). Nevertheless, comparisons with other known monastic sites are useful, allowing researchers to set the findings from Auldhame in context and enhancing their significance. Auldhame suggests that potential monastic sites can differ widely in scale, adding to our understanding of the infancy of Christian communities in Scotland. The best local comparison for Auldhame is Tyninghame, a few kilometres to the south, another potential Anglian monastery known from historical sources, but where the known archaeological remains are represented to date only by a 9th-century cross base and a 12th-century church.
The beginning of Christianity in Scotland is a subject of wide academic and public interest, and early ecclesiastical settlements are vital to any understanding of how the faith spread throughout the country. Documentary sources refer to the coming of Christianity, but the accounts we have are partial and problematic. The fragmentary nature of the historical record enhances the significance of the archaeological remains preserved at Auldhame.
Both Auldhame and Tyninghame are listed amongst the manors owned by the bishopric of Lindisfarne in AD 854, leading historians to suggest that these places were monasteries which may have been members of a confederation of which Lindisfarne was the head. Tyninghame has long been associated with St Baldred (or Balthere), who appears to have died in the later 8th century and is a character in poetry written by Alcuin. Some researchers have suggested that St Baldred may also have been associated with Auldhame, noting the traditions associating Baldred with a hermitage on the Bass Rock, and also Symeon of Durham's account that in 941 Amlaib, Norse king of Northumbria, '... laid waste the church of St Baldred and burned Tyninghame', an account that seems to suggest that St Baldred's Church and Tyninghame were at separate locations.
This monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to our understanding of the past, in particular of early historic churches and burial sites in the British Isles. With proven well-preserved archaeological remains, this site has rich potential to improve knowledge of early historic church architecture, of settlements associated with early churches, and of the physical remains of the people placed in the burial ground. Artefacts and ecofacts recovered already provide rare evidence for early historic book production and similar objects may remain buried at the site. The burials already excavated include one distinctive Viking grave and the site has the potential to inform knowledge of the interaction between Scandinavians and contemporary people in the Lothians. The loss of the monument would significantly diminish our future ability to appreciate and understand early historic chapels and the role they played in the dissemination both of Christianity and of Anglian royal control.