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13 September 2003
Scottish Iron Age fort blaze sparks fear for relics (updated)

Hidden archaeological treasures at the site of a Scottish Iron Age fort may have been destroyed by a massive fire which has burned for five days. It is thought a carelessly dropped cigarette could have sparked the huge grass fire at Traprain Law, East Lothian.
     The site of the historic hill fort, which also contains remnants of a medieval settlement, was shrouded in smoke for many days as a fire continued to burn underground. Due to the intense heat, archaeologists from East Lothian Council and Historic Scotland have been unable to get close enough to accurately gauge the damage.
     But heritage officer Biddy Simpson, who has visited Traprain Law, said the devastation had left her very concerned. "It seems that the fire may have caused some damage to the ramparts of the fort, which were a mixture of rock and earth once used as a defensive barrier," she said. "One concern is that, because of the dry weather, the fire has burnt down into the roots of the grass and turf, damaging things we have not yet been able to excavate. It will be some time before we can be sure of how much damage has been done."
     A spokesman for East Lothian Council said it would be impossible to tell the full extent of the damage to the environment for up to a year, but an early assessment showed there had been substantial damage. David Mercer, Divisional Officer for Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade, stressed the importance of people taking care with cigarettes and other fires outdoors.
     Traprain Law literally means the hill of staves because of the wooden fortifications. In prehistoric times, it became known as Dunpender, the hill fort capital of the Votadini tribe which dominated what would become south-east Scotland. Excavations around the site have revealed Bronze Age axes and Stone Age cremations which date back to 1500 BCE.

Sources: East Lothian Courier (11 September 2003), The Scotsman (13 September 2003)

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