9th December 2023
Archaeologists discover 'lost' medieval village in Scottish Borders
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Archaeologists discover ‘lost’ medieval village in Scottish Borders

Archäologists in the Scottish Borders have found German and Dutch pots, jugs, and mugs, coins like the American cent, spindles, sheep skulls, and horse teeth, where doors built in walls have uncovered a “lost” medieval village of families, farmyards and hearths.

Between Edinburgh and the Northumberland National Park, the outskirts of Selkirk have previously been associated with the Battle of Philiphaugh, a 1645 victory for the Scottish Covenanter Army against their under-strength Royalist enemies.

A Scottish Water pipeline project discovered brick buildings with two pivot stones, used as door hinges between the 14th and 16th centuries but converted into cobbling after their houses were demolished. There were also four coins, stone counters for playing, burnt clay, and fired pieces.

One of the pivot stones
One of the pivot stones

“These research shows that there was a thriving farming community in the immediate area – one that has been ‘lost’ during further agricultural upgrade to restructure farms and fields,” said Susan Ramsay, from the research team. “Recovery of the clay tobacco pipes, glass bottles and coins from the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly near Old Mill Farm, confirms the future activities in the area.

“The radiocarbon dates confirm activity in the period from 1472 to 1645. Although the artefacts were recovered from the lower plough soil rather than sealed archaeological contexts, they too support a late 15th to 17th century date.

“Two pottery sherds from stoneware bottles, or possibly drinking mugs imported from Germany or Belgium, would date to that period. A fragment of a clay tobacco pipe identifies the maker as James Colquhoun, who manufactured pipes in Glasgow between 1660 and 1680. “These artefacts also suggest that manufactured goods were being traded from the cities to the rural areas of Scotland.”

Dr Tom Turpie, a Medieval History expert from the University of Stirling, said the earliest reference to Philiphaugh came from the reign of Robert I, although one mention of the town, when it was said to have had a tower, fortalice, manors, gardens, orchards and mills, came from 1582.

“On 10 March 1316, Robert granted the western part of the lands of Philiphaugh to one William ‘called Turnbull’,” he explained. “On the same day, the eastern part of the lands of Philiphaugh was confirmed to William Barbitonsor.

“It is possible that the lands of Philiphaugh belonged to the Abbey of Kelso prior to the Wars of Independence [1286-1328]. “The lands of ‘Phillophauch’ were also included in a record of the abbey’s rental income which was made in around 1567.”

Four medieval pottery sherds and 67 metal artefacts, from the past two centuries, were discovered.“What cannot be determined at the moment is whether the buildings, indicated by the structural remains, were in use at the same time,” said Ramsay. “The differences in building style suggest that buildings were replaced and that the settlement moved slightly over time.

“The artefacts cover a wide date range, which, along with the variations in construction of walls and surfaces, suggests that several different phases of building and occupation may be present. “The recovery of the two pivot or swivel stones, as well as small quantities of daub, indicate that timber buildings of possible medieval or earlier date occupied the site.

The water pipeline skirted the edge of a Scheduled Monument identified from aerial photographs as a possible early medieval settlement
The water pipeline skirted the edge of a Scheduled Monument identified from aerial photographs as a possible early medieval settlement

“The historical research and the limited archaeological evidence point to a small farming settlement that was established in the late 15th or early 16th century and covers the transition between medieval and post-medieval periods.

“The historical evidence demonstrates that houses and farms were known in this area but it does not identify their location, while the archaeological evidence can provide some indication of the location of structures.

“The site and surrounding area is well known for the Battle of Philiphaugh in 1645. Contemporary accounts refer to ditches, dikes and hedges that indicate field systems, but they do not mention houses or buildings, which could suggest that the farms or small holdings had been abandoned by that time.”

Two bronze and copper halfpenny coins were used during the reigns of George II and George III, and a Lincoln cent, from 1959, has the Abraham Lincoln Memorial on its reverse. A “typical” assemblage of 40 fragments of glass had its earliest origins in the early 18th century, which analyst Robin Mudoch called “by no means unusual.”

“The rapid spread of the use of glass wine and beer bottles in the 18th century was usually the first time that such containers became part of the general social fabric,” he pointed out.

“From the beginning of the second quarter of the 19th century, a whole range of glass containers for all sorts of uses began to be made – many preferred to use ceramics because of the ability to view the contents.

A spindle whorl recovered from the lost settlement
A spindle whorl recovered from the lost settlement

“There are several examples in the assemblage and also some later 20th century material.” Archaeozoologist Catherine Smith reported “at least” three lower cheek teeth from horses, as well as sheep bones left in a cut-through pit among the fields.

“They were not heavily worn and came from an animal which was probably adult at the time of death,” she said of the equine molars. “The sheep remains consisted of a fragmentary skull, accompanied by separate maxillary fragments and both left and right mandibles.

“The nasal region of the skull was absent. The skull associated with the mandibles was fairly small and hornless.”  Hornless sheep were favoured by later farmers. “In the modern period, horn lost its value as a resource with the advent of synthetic plastics. “Hornless sheep breeds became more common than horned breeds. “This may indicate that the remains post-date the medieval period, although the small size of the skull is a medieval feature.”