The hamlet of Auldhame lies on a coastal headland in East Lothian in Scotland; locally, its foundation is linked to St Baldred or Balthere. The archaeological potential of the area was first highlighted with the identification by J.R.C. Hamilton in 1949 of burials, middens and a dry-stone structure. Excavations starting in 2005 revealed a medieval parish church and associated graveyard. But it is the recovery of Anglo-Saxon and Viking finds that confirms earlier activity on the site, possibly to be associated with Balthere, and which suggests that the site is more properly to be interpreted as a monastic settlement of an earlier date (mid seventh to mid ninth centuries) than the parish church would indicate.
The archaeological material, creditably integrating Hamilton's work, is presented in this well-produced volume in conventional fashion: Chapter 1 deals with the context of the excavation; Chapters 2–6 provide the material evidence, chronological framework, artefactual and ecofactual data and a consideration of the important osteological record from the 242 excavated graves (a further 66 were left in situ). The final chapter provides, in three very separate sections, discussions of the Anglian monastery (Chapter 7.2), the parish church and graveyard (Chapter 7.3), and the significant but very brief Viking-era activities (summarised in 7.2 and amplified in 7.4 by Alex Woolf).
The volume as a whole is clearly and logically structured, but the detailed presentation and contextualisation of the site as a whole means that some important individual finds lack prominence; a selection of the most significant discoveries are highlighted here. Radiocarbon dates indicate that the site was in use from the late seventh to the seventeenth centuries. Barber's detailed consideration of the dates and phasing is important: phase 1 (AD 650–1000) includes evidence of settlement activity, ending c. AD 850–900, and presumably ecclesiastical in nature. A primary chapel (building 1), perhaps a timber oratory, was retained but enlarged (building 2) as a stone-footed chapel in the mid eighth to ninth centuries. Also from this phase comes the Viking burial (G751/SK 752), with grave goods (discussed below) and five skeletons including evidence for fatal traumas. Phase 2 (AD 1000–1200) included burial activity, and one of the two preceding ecclesiastical structures was possibly levelled and its defining ditches infilled. In phase 3 (AD 1200–1400), burial activity continued and the church was rebuilt in mortared masonry.
Amongst the artefacts recovered, two Anglo-Saxon finds are notable: a decorative cloisonné mount (SF 300) and parts of a decorated glass inkwell (SF 748). The contextual information is unclear, however, and it is assumed by the reviewer that these were amongst the stray finds recorded from the plough soil. The recovery of a Viking burial (G751), one of the most southerly examples in Scotland, is also notable. The grave goods, including a copper alloy belt set with textile remains, a pair of iron spurs and strap fittings, and a spearhead, have links to the Irish Sea region typologies. The important osteological discussion includes strontium isotope analyses, although the broad similarity of signatures between Scandinavia and eastern Scotland makes it impossible to determine where the deceased originated.
Chapter 7 is the meat of the volume, where all the studies of specific elements are brought together. The discussion of the documentary context for the Anglian period in the Lothians generally and the monastic complex at Auldhame itself is useful and could perhaps have been introduced somewhat earlier in the volume. Discussion of the Viking local context is split across several sections. The first provides a useful summary of the “sparse and sporadic” (p. 134) archaeological evidence; a separate discussion by Heald, several pages later, addresses the Anglian monastery. The Viking grave at Auldhame is linked here with the growing Cumbrian corpus and a reiteration of the possible Irish Sea origins of some of the grave goods. It is clear that the burial lies within an existing Christian cemetery, arguably making a statement of power over the local religious and secular order. Heald suggests the possibility, however, that the monastic complex itself had already declined, and that the Viking burial (and five unfurnished ones) was therefore a reactivation by the Vikings of a disused Christian complex and, by association, a legitimisation of their control. The final section, by Woolf, is unintegrated with those that precede it, and so there is considerable repetition amongst the important discussion here about Balthere and his association with Auldhame or nearby Tyninghame. The linking of the Viking burial with Olaf Guthfrithson, who died in AD 941 shortly after attacking Tyninghame, uncritically correlates text and material culture—although this identification, of course, provides the newspaper headline.
There are some notable editorial flaws in the volume: for example, table 10 on the chipped stone tools appears in Chapter 6 instead of Chapter 4 where the material is discussed. The separation of the discussion of the Viking grave finds and the catalogue is unhelpful and repetitious, and the lack of coherence becomes particularly noticeable in Chapter 7. Regardless, this is a most useful addition to the growing corpus of Early Medieval monastic material in Scotland and beyond.