World’s oldest-known surviving Scottish tartan has ‘more to tell,’ says researcher


As It Happens6:00World’s oldest-known surviving Scottish tartan has ‘extra to inform,’ says researcher

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

Now, thanks 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 Happens host Nil Köksal.

“It’s a massively vital piece as a result of it is so early, as a result of it is, in case you like, a transitional piece that talks to us in regards to the growth of tartan in Scotland.”

The tartan — which was possible crimson 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’m 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 asserting the invention.

The Glen Affric tartan is believed to date between 1500 and 1600. It was possible possible crimson 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 had 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 cloth, 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 material or clothes from the sixteenth century that’s not 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 strange particular person, is fairly unimaginable,” mentioned Sally Tuckett, a senior lecturer of costume and textile historical past at University of Glasgow, by e-mail. Tuckett can 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 thought about its origins, together with who discovered it and the place within the glen it was uncovered, MacDonald mentioned.

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

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

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

“This fragment might be a significant piece to the puzzle, which might inform us what dye stuffs had been used [and] the place they got here from. It would possibly even be attainable to decide what kind of wool was used,” Tuckett mentioned.

The cloth’s selvedge signifies it may have been half of a bigger garment, corresponding to a cloak. 

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

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)

Based on the colors and sample, nonetheless, MacDonald speculates the tartan may 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 is not one thing that you simply 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 no less than the sixteenth century to in the present day. 

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

“This is a narrative that has far more to inform us,” he mentioned.