World’s oldest-known surviving Scottish tartan has ‘extra to inform,’ says researcher


As It Occurs6:00World’s oldest-known surviving Scottish tartan has ‘extra to inform,’ says researcher

Peter MacDonald had a hunch {that a} piece of material present in a lavatory many years in the past predated any tartan he’d seen earlier than.

Now, due to dye evaluation and radiocarbon testing, the fragment measuring 55-by-43 centimetres is believed to be the oldest-known surviving Scottish tartan relationship again the interval between 1500 and 1600, researchers say.

“No different piece of tartan survived from earlier than … the 1700s, the 18th century,” mentioned Peter MacDonald, head of analysis and collections on the Scottish Tartans Authority, in an interview with As It Occurs host Nil Köksal.

“It is a massively necessary piece as a result of it is so early, as a result of it is, for those who like, a transitional piece that talks to us in regards to the improvement of tartan in Scotland.”

The tartan — which was probably pink and yellow or tan, with skinny inexperienced and black or brown stripes however has stained over time — will go on show as a part of the Victoria and Albert Museum Dundee’s tartan exhibition subsequent month. 

“I am delighted the exhibition has inspired additional exploration into this plaid portion and really grateful for the Scottish Tartans Authority’s backing and assist in uncovering such a historic discover,” mentioned James Wylie, a curator for the museum, in a press launch saying the invention.

Gloved hands hold a placard with a piece of tartan on it.
The Glen Affric tartan is believed up to now between 1500 and 1600. It was probably probably pink and yellow or tan, with skinny inexperienced and black or brown stripes (Alan Richardson/Victoria and Albert Museum Dundee)

The “rustic” look and unfastened weave of the material was MacDonald’s first clue that the tartan predated the 18th century. Surviving tartans from the 1700s have been of upper high quality, he mentioned.

It was the tartan’s colors that gave the subsequent indication of its age. A dye evaluation confirmed there have been no synthetic or imported dyes within the material, which dated it to a interval earlier than 1770.

Subsequent carbon relationship — a course of that took 14 weeks to take away peat staining and concerned a number of acid and alkali baths — positioned its origin to even earlier, between 1500 and 1600. 

“Any fabric or clothes from the sixteenth century that isn’t from royalty or the Aristocracy is fairly uncommon, and so to have this piece which predates the clan tartan mania of the nineteenth century, worn or utilized by an peculiar individual, is fairly unbelievable,” mentioned Sally Tuckett, a senior lecturer of gown and textile historical past at College of Glasgow, by e mail. Tuckett can also be a trustee for the Scottish Tartans Authority.

Preserved by peat

MacDonald says the tartan has been within the authority’s possession since 1995, when it was inherited from a separate, and now defunct, tartan preservation society.

Smiling, grey-haired man holds up a placard with a fragment of tartan on it.
Peter MacDonald is head of analysis and collections on the Scottish Tartans Authority. (Alan Richardson/Victoria and Albert Museum Dundee)

It was found at Glen Affric, in northwestern Scotland, 10 years earlier by somebody working in forestry. Little extra is understood about its origins, together with who discovered it and the place within the glen it was uncovered, MacDonald mentioned.

“It is fairly peaty, the wind up there, and so after they have been digging the trenches … this piece was excavated,” he mentioned. 

“Aside from being washed and put away tidy … it has been within the assortment. I’ve recognized about it, but it surely’s probably not seen the sunshine of day.”

Glen Affric’s peat, which prevented oxygen from deteriorating the woven material, is what stored the tartan in such outstanding situation for hundreds of years. 

“This fragment may very well be a significant piece to the puzzle, which might inform us what dye stuffs have been used [and] the place they got here from. It’d even be potential to find out what sort of wool was used,” Tuckett mentioned.

The material’s selvedge signifies it might have been half of a bigger garment, reminiscent of a cloak. 

However who owned it stays a thriller. Clan-specific tartan did not seem till the nineteenth century. And Glen Affric was a transitory route, which means it might’ve been owned by somebody native — or somebody simply passing by way of. 

Landscape photo of a lake in the foreground and highland peaks in the background.
The tartan was uncovered in Glen Affric, Scotland. It got here into the Scottish Tartans Authority’s possesion in 1995. (Ulmus Media/Shutterstock)

Primarily based on the colors and sample, nevertheless, MacDonald speculates the tartan might have been made for somebody of upper social standing or for particular events.

“The quantity of labor concerned in producing color after which making patterns like that, it isn’t one thing that you just do after which simply put on successfully for farm work,” he mentioned.

Researcher will recreate

Questions in regards to the tartan’s origins stay — together with whether or not it was deliberately buried — however MacDonald acknowledges that a lot can be left to hypothesis. 

What the invention proves, the researcher says, is that the tartan custom has continued from at the very least the sixteenth century to in the present day. 

MacDonald’s subsequent steps are to recreate the tartan, matching the colors to how they’d’ve appeared centuries in the past.

“This can be a story that has far more to inform us,” he mentioned.

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