An Archaeologist's Tools - A Trowel and... the Internet?

By David Prudames | 06 January 2003
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this detail from Timothy Pont's original hand-drawn map shows Cromarty with the castle in question on the left.

Left: this detail from Timothy Pont's original hand-drawn map shows Cromarty with the castle in question on the left. Courtesy, Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

Once upon a time the tools of the archaeology trade were nothing more than a trusty trowel, the odd geophysical survey and a nose for history, but now there is a major new addition to their armoury… the Internet.

A series of sixteenth century maps published on the National Library of Scotland's website has led to the discovery of the site of a forgotten medieval castle.

David Alston, Curator of the Cromarty Courthouse Museum in the Highlands of Scotland used the online sixteenth century maps, drawn by a certain Timothy Pont (1565-1611), to locate the exact whereabouts of the castle on the Black Isle.

Although the cliff-top site was recorded as 'Castledownie' by the Ordnance Survey in the 1870s archaeologists who visited the site as recently as the 1950s did not believe it was medieval.

the map, drawn in the sixteenth century, clearly shows an enclosed tower at the site.

Right: the map, drawn in the sixteenth century, clearly shows an enclosed tower at the site. Courtesy, Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

"What I am looking at is the same thing that archaeologists have looked at," explained David Alston.

"There is clearly a rampart around a site and there is a lot of stone about, but given the evidence on the map I think it is likely that this is the site of the medieval castle that was shown on the map. Fairly close to this there are also remains of a farmhouse, all turf-walled buildings which are more unusual but don't have the same romantic cache as the castle."

Mr Alston explained how further evidence of a castle on that site was found in a novel written in the 1850s by James Grant, who later founded The National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights, one of the country's first nationalist groups.

The Curator pointed out that this, too, suggests the Internet's increasing role in historical research, as with Grant's fiction long out of print, one of the few places evidence of it can be found is on the World Wide Web.

the map known as [Gordon] 20, is one of 77 surviving manuscripts by Pont.

Left: the map known as [Gordon] 20, is one of 77 surviving manuscripts by Pont. Courtesy, Trustees of the National Library of Scotland.

"Somebody could have found them without the Internet, but it opens up lots of possibilities for local history groups and historians, particularly with the quality of some of the stuff coming online where you can zoom in and out and so on."

Graduating from St Andrews University in 1583, Timothy Pont spent 20 years researching and drawing what are now the earliest surviving detailed maps of Scotland, which can be seen at the National Library in Edinburgh.

Historic maps of Scotland, including those drawn by Timothy Pont can be viewed online at the National Library of Scotland's fantastic website. Click on this link to have a look.

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