Scotland’s ‘oldest’ tartan discovered in peat bog
NEW research has revealed a piece of tartan found in a Glen Affric peat bog could be the oldest tartan in Scotland.
The specimen, which measures around 55cm by 43cm, was found around 40 years ago and can be dated to circa 1500-1600 AD, so it is possible that it was made around the rule of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The Scottish Tartans Authority used dye analysis and radiocarbon testing on the woollen textile to prove its age.
National Museums Scotland carried out the analysis and found there were no artificial or semi-synthetic dyestuffs present, which pointed to a date of pre-1750s.
To narrow down the age of the tartan, radiocarbon testing at the SUERC Radiocarbon Laboratory in East Kilbride was carried out.
The radiocarbon testing results identified a broad date range between 1500 and 1655 AD, with the period between 1500 and 1600 AD the most probable.
This makes it the oldest-known piece of true tartan found in Scotland as the Falkirk "tartan", dating from the early third century AD, is a simpler check pattern woven using undyed yarns.
It lacks the signature variation in stripe sizes associated with true tartan, making the Glen Affric tartan the oldest found.
Peter MacDonald, head of research and collections at The Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “The testing process has taken nearly six months, but the effort was well worth it and we are thrilled with the results!
“In Scotland, surviving examples of old textiles are rare as the soil is not conducive to their survival. As the piece was buried in peat, it had no exposure to air and was therefore preserved.
“The tartan has several colours with multiple stripes of different sizes, and so it corresponds to what people would think of as a true tartan.
“Although we can theorise about the Glen Affric tartan, it’s important that we don’t construct history around it. Although Clan Chisholm controlled that area, we cannot attribute the tartan to them as we don’t know who owned it.”
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The Glen Affric tartan is due to make its debut in Scotland’s design museum V&A Dundee, at its Tartan exhibition opening on April 1.
John McLeish, chair of The Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “The Glen Affric tartan is clearly a piece of national and historical significance. It is likely to date to the reign of James V, Mary Queen of Scots, or James VI/I.
“There is no other known surviving piece of tartan from this period of this age. It's a remarkable discovery and deserves national attention and preservation.”
James Wylie, curator at V&A Dundee, said: “To be able to exhibit the Glen Affric tartan is immensely important in understanding the textile traditions from which modern tartan derives, and I'm sure visitors will appreciate seeing this on public display for the very first time."