WHAT did the Romans ever do for us? According to new research, it wasn’t “splitting Ancient Britain in two”.

That’s based on ground-breaking analysis of the archaeological record that suggests cultural differences between the peoples in Scotland and England had already built up long before the Romans landed in 43AD and created their northern defensive line.

And the findings, drawn from the remains of Scots structures like brochs, duns, crannogs and souterrains, also provide new insights about why Rome didn’t march across more of Scotland, it is claimed.

Dr Ronan Toolis, of Edinburgh-based Guard Archaeology, has spent years chipping away at the matter and says it’s lain uncovered for so long because the Iron Age is studied on a region-by-region basis. “It’s all about perspective,” he told the Sunday National. “People haven’t taken a supra-national perspective to look at this before.”

The National: ‘Anarchic’ ancient cultures stopped Roman march

Toolis, director of the employee-owned firm, has mapped out the prevalence of our early buildings for the first time – something that hasn’t been done before – and says the architectural divergence he’s found supports the theory that “the peoples of Scotland and England were already culturally divergent” far earlier than is thought.

“The specific types of archaeology are only found in Scotland. The distribution patterns stop at the border. No-one has really tried to explain why that is,” he says.

Toolis’ paper, Shifting ­perspectives on first-millennia Scotland, is ­published in the latest ­Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of ­Scotland.

“The archaeological evidence suggests that Hadrian’s Wall was not a cause but instead an effect of existing cultural differences between the peoples of what later became Scotland and England, and this cultural divergence continued beyond into the medieval period.

“Separate cultural trajectories led to the separate formations of the two kingdoms, entirely independent of Hadrian’s Wall,” he states.

The National: ‘Anarchic’ ancient cultures stopped Roman march

While there are souterrains in Cornwall, those have more in common with the underground structures in Brittany, he says. A single Welsh crannog is thought to have an Irish influence and to have come later than those found in Scotland.

“The underlying implication of the settlement distribution patterns is that Iron Age societies across Scotland were open to the building and occupation of brochs, crannogs, duns and souterrains but that Iron Age societies further south were not,” he says. “This was the result of cultural choices taken by households and communities, not environmental constraints, and suggests that Iron Age societies north and south of the Tweed–Solway zone were perceptibly dissimilar.

“These distinctive differences in the archaeological record are especially significant because the construction of crannogs and souterrains during the 4th-2nd centuries BC demonstrates that this divergence occurred long before the Roman frontier zone may have severed societies.

“The archaeological divergence does not equate with the line of Hadrian’s Wall but rather more closely with the Anglo-Scottish border,” he went on. “The Wall instead follows probably the best strategic course through a broader zone of cultural divergence.”

The failure of Roman military campaigns in what is now Scotland has often been attributed to shifts in that empire’s priorities.

However, Toolis believes the evidence points to an Iron Age Scotland which was “anarchic in nature – not chaotic but composed of autonomous households and communities” which lacked the pecking orders seen in the tribal kingdoms of what is now England.

THE lack of these hierarchical ­structures may have made it harder for the Romans to absorb the northern peoples, he believes, with no proof of the adoption of a Roman culture here until after the soldiers had gone back. Latin inscriptions on stones date from around the 5th century AD.

“The Romans don’t mention any kings and queens in Scotland as they did in England,” he said.

“While there existed cultural affinity in some aspects north and south of the border and regional variation is apparent within Scotland itself,” he says.

“Just as it is possible for local patterns to be distinguished from regional trends in Iron Age culture in ­Scotland, so too is it possible to ­recognise national trends.

“However, culture should not be conflated with identity. The ­peoples of early medieval Scotland may have separately identified as Britons, Picts and Scots but they ­nevertheless shared cultural traits unique to ­Scotland.”