Archaeologists find 'lost' medieval village full of pottery, coins and bones in Scottish Borders

By Ben Miller | 28 April 2014

Archaeologists believe a medieval village has been revealed during two winters of work on water pipes in Scotland

A photo of a series of stones above a square pit on a greenfield archaeology site
© Guard Archaeology Ltd
German and Dutch pots, jugs and mugs, coins including an American cent, spindles, a sheep skull and horse teeth have been found by archaeologists digging in the Scottish Borders, where doors integrated into walls have revealed 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 photo of a long trench stretching out past fields covered by snow
The work was carried out during the winters of 2012 and 2013© Guard Archaeology Ltd
A pipeline-laying project by Scottish Water, though, has found stone brick structures including two pivot stones, used as hinges for doors between the 14th and 16th centuries but turned into cobbling after their buildings were demolished.

Four coins, stone counters for games, burnt clay and fired fragments were also found.

“These investigations demonstrate that there was a thriving farming community in the immediate area – one that was ‘lost’ in the later farming improvements that restructured farms and fields,” said Susan Ramsay, of the investigating team.

“The recovery of clay tobacco pipes, glass bottles and coins that date from the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly from near Old Mill Farm, confirm the later activities in that 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.”

A photo of people in high-visibility jackets digging a trench
Scottish Water, The Scottish Borders Council Archaeologist and Historic Scotland collaborated on the excavations© Guard Archaeology Ltd
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.

A photo of people digging an outdoor brown trench next to farming fields
Documentary research suggested a range of buildings were spread over a large area along the river Tweed© Guard Archaeology Ltd
“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 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.

“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.”

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

A photo of a circular golden and earth brown archaeological artefact against black
A spindle whorl recovered from the lost settlement© Guard Archaeology Ltd
A photo of a grey pit with archaeological circular imprints visible from above
One of the pivot stones© Guard Archaeology Ltd
A photo of two people in high-visibility green jackets digging a large trench by fields
Archaeological excavation of the medieval remains© Guard Archaeology Ltd
A photo of a large brown field
The water pipeline skirted the edge of a Scheduled Monument identified from aerial photographs as a possible early medieval settlement© Guard Archaeology Ltd
More from Culture24's Archaeology section:

Skeletons of foetus, heavily pregnant woman and crammed men found at York church

Sutton Hoo and Europe galleries exert magnetic pull in British Museum display

Britain: One Million Years of Human History sparks superlatives at Natural History Museum
Latest comment: >Make a comment
  • Back to top
  • | Print this article
  • | Email this article
  • | Bookmark and Share
    Back to article
    Your comment:
    DISCLAIMER: Reader comments posted at are the opinion of the comment writer, not Culture24. Culture24 reserves the right to withdraw or withhold from publication any comments that are deemed to be hearsay or potentially libellous, or make false or unsubstantiated allegations or are deemed to be spam or unrelated to the article at which they are posted.