Aberlady Heritage Project


Aberlady has a rich but little understood heritage. Recent survey work has confirmed aerial evidence of iron-age fort earthworks evidently still visible in the mid 18thC. Further survey work is set to confirm an extensive underground souterrain. The first discovered in East Lothian. Aberlady has also provided the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon stray finds in Scotland. Once a key port, a role to which silting and the march of time have now put paid, Aberlady had its own Customs House and harbour quay, the latter only recently discovered and part excavated. It was always a place that facilitated communication and cultural and economic exchange. This would have been the case when the earliest artefacts yet to be found on the site came into being, namely a metalwork crosier head of probable 7th-8th-century date and an exceptionally fine section of a carved high cross of probable 8th-century date. The carved stone cross bears a particularly close relationship to the bird interlace that characterises the Lindisfarne Gospels, one of our great national treasures. It was a symbol of cultural reconciliation and collaboration, a process in which Aberlady evidently participated.

During medieval times Aberlady’s safe anchorage and harbour rendered it an exceptionally important centre not only for its region but for Scotland too.

Over 300 medieval coins have been recovered from a relatively small area, while the concentration of stray Anglo-Saxon finds surrendered by Aberlady is unrivalled in Scotland.

Nevertheless, the various activities which took place here over time are not well understood.

We know there was a rich ecclesiastical phase of occupation from at least the early 8th Century when Aberlady had strong connections with the monasteries at both Iona and its daughter-house at Lindisfarne.
The cross fragment seen to the left was discovered in the wall of the former manse garden in 1863.  The cross of which it formed part would have stood about 17 feet high.  It is the closest sculptural representation in existence of the very fine illuminated artwork in the Lindisfarne Gospels, arguably the UK’s greatest artwork.
From this early period until late medieval times, Aberlady was an important centre serving the constant flow of pilgrims travelling between those early great monasteries of northern Europe, which were then the outstanding intellectual, cultural and spiritual powerhouses of the time.



This community-led archaeology project aims to uncover more about who was here, why and when. We are grateful for the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund.

The project also acknowledges the support of East Lothian Council, the National Museums of Scotland, the British Library, the University of London, and Gullane Area Community Council.