Andrejs Grisulis, 35 and Matthew Madden, 55, were seen digging at Dunadd Fort in Argyll’s Kilmartin Glen, one of the most important early medieval power centres in Scotland and capital of the early kingdom of Dál Riata.
The site has been legally protected for 90 years, but the two men dug 28 holes on June 8 2020.
Police Scotland later recovered an extremely fragile and vulnerable iron hammerhead, and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) carried out an investigation into the incident..
Grisulis, of Kinlochleven, and Madden, of Fort William, pled guilty to two charges each at Dunoon Sheriff Court.
The pair were given a Community Payback Order requiring them to carry out 80 hours unpaid work and supervision for six months, and the metal detector was confiscated.
They also received a two year ban from any site owned and managed by HES.
Under heritage laws, it is an offence to use a metal detector or carry out unauthorised works on a scheduled monument without consent from HES or Scottish Ministers
An investigation into the Dunadd Fort incident discovered 35 holes or areas of disturbance consistent with metal detecting activity. Some 22 of the holes no longer contained the metal item that would have caused the detectorists to dig at that spot.
HES said the incident had a serious impact on the cultural significance of the monument, causing irreversible damage.
Oliver Lewis, Senior Ancient Monuments Officer at HES, said: “The court’s decision reflects the seriousness of the offence and the impact that it has had on one of Scotland’s most important archaeological sites.
“Heritage crime is a serious matter which can irreparably damage our monuments and cultural assets as well as our proud historical connections to the past. HES is committed to investigating incidents of damage to scheduled monuments.”
Police Inspector Alan Dron, Police Scotland Rural Crime Coordinator and Chair of the Scottish Heritage Crime Group, added: “The detection and prosecution of these offences at Dunadd have been the result of a concerted effort by the Police, the Crown Office and Historic Environment Scotland, to ensure that we continue to protect that history and preserve it for generations to come.”
Dunadd is a complex multi-phase site with evidence of human use dating from around 3000BC to at least AD1500. It is best known and internationally renowned as being the royal centre and capital of the Gaelic kings of Dál Riata from about AD 500 to AD 800. It is one of the few places referenced in early histories – first mentioned in AD 683 – and may also be the spot where St Columba reportedly met a merchant from Gaul in the late 500s.
Excavations in the 1980s confirmed that Dunadd was a major production centre with one of the most significant metalworking workshops in early medieval Europe as well as yielding the largest and most diverse range of pottery of any site in north-west Europe.
Dunadd is located in the prehistoric landscape of Kilmartin Glen which has one of the most important concentration of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in mainland Scotland.