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Scientists dig into our 'lost kingdom' hidden at Dunseverick castle

By David Young

The secrets of north Antrim's ancient past are set to be unearthed by a million pound project to explore the 'lost kingdoms' of Scotland and Ireland.

Researchers from the University of Aberdeen have been awarded the cash to investigate Europe's ancient seats of power in Scotland, the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland.

The five-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, will be led by archaeologist Dr Gordon Noble, from the School of Geosciences at the University of Aberdeen. He says, while the names Dunseverick, Burghead and Cashel may not resonate in the same way as the seats of power in mainland Europe in the late and post-Roman eras, they have for centuries been overlooked in their historical importance.

"In contrast to the study of the Roman Empire and its successors, first-millennium AD northern Europe has not been studied to the same level and rarely within an international context," Dr Noble 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.

"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."

Dunseverick, near the Giant's Causeway, is home to a small hamlet and a castle of the same name, once visited by St Patrick. It is regarded as a 'key' ancient site in Ireland.

The castle marks the end of one of the five great royal highways of ancient Ireland. It ran to Navan Fort and on to Tara and the fording point on the Liffey, at what is now Dublin.

The nature of the societies that filled the chasm left by the demise of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, remains one of the relative unknowns of history.

Dr Noble says the award will open up new opportunities to investigate how the post-Roman Kingdoms of Ireland and Scotland operated, and how they compared in scale and character with elsewhere in Europe.

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