Category Archives: SCOTLAND

A 5,000-year-old relic from the Great Pyramid discovered in a cigar box in Scotland

A 5,000-year-old relic from the Great Pyramid discovered in a cigar box in Scotland

A ‘chance discovery’ at the University of Aberdeen could shed new light on the Great Pyramid with museum staff uncovering a ‘lost’ artifact – one of only three objects ever recovered from inside the Wonder of the Ancient World.

In 1872 the engineer Waynman Dixon discovered a trio of items inside the pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber, which became known as the ‘Dixon relics’.

Two of them – a ball and hook – are now housed in the British Museum however the third, a fragment of wood, has been missing for more than 70 years.

The box was found among the Asia archives at the University of Aberdeen
The box was found among the Asia archives at the University of Aberdeen

The lost piece of cedar has generated many theories about its purpose and date and holds particular significance because of the potential for radiocarbon dating. Some have speculated that it was part of a measuring rule which could reveal clues regarding the pyramid’s construction.

In 2001 a record was identified which indicated the wood fragment may have been donated to the University of Aberdeen’s museum collections as a result of a connection between Dixon and James Grant, who was born in Methlick in 1840.

Grant studied medicine at the university and in the mid-1860s went to Egypt to help with an outbreak of cholera where he befriended Dixon and went on to assist him with the exploration of the Great Pyramid, where together they discovered the relics.

A 5,000-year-old relic from the Great Pyramid discovered in a cigar box in Scotland
The cigar box with wooden fragments had been added to the museum’s Asia collection, but actually housed the Egyptian relics.

The finding was widely reported at the time, with a British newspaper, ‘The Graphic’, carrying a story on the important discovery in December 1872 which stated: ‘Although they possess a remarkable interest, not alone on account of their vast antiquity, from the evidence they are likely to afford as to the correctness of the many theories formed by Sir Isaac Newton and others as to the weights and measures in use by the builders of the pyramids. The position in which they have left shows that they must have been left there whilst the work was going on, and at an early period of its construction’.

Following Grant’s death in 1895, his collections were bequeathed to the University, while the ‘five-inch piece of cedar’ was donated by his daughter in 1946. However, it was never classified and despite an extensive search, could not be located.

Then at the end of last year, curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany was conducting a review of items housed in the University’s Asia collection.

Abeer Eladany with the cigar box and pieces of wood.

Abeer, who is originally from Egypt and spent 10 years working in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, was immediately intrigued and, noting that the item had the country’s former flag on the top and did not seem to belong in the Asian collection, cross-referenced it with other records. It was then that she realized just what she was holding.

It may be just a small fragment of wood, which is now in several pieces, but it is hugely significant given that it is one of only three items ever to be recovered from inside the Great Pyramid”

Abeer Eladany

“Once I looked into the numbers in our Egypt records, I instantly knew what it was and that it had effectively been hidden in plain sight in the wrong collection,” she said. “I’m an archaeologist and have worked on digs in Egypt but I never imagined it would be here in north-east Scotland that I’d find something so important to the heritage of my own country.

“It may be just a small fragment of wood, which is now in several pieces, but it is hugely significant given that it is one of only three items ever to be recovered from inside the Great Pyramid.

“The University’s collections are vast – running to hundreds of thousands of items – so looking for it has been like finding a needle in a haystack. I couldn’t believe it when I realized what was inside this innocuous-looking cigar tin.”

Covid restrictions delayed the dating of the ‘lost’ cedar fragment which originally belonged to a much larger piece of wood, which was most recently seen in a 1993 exploration of the interior of the pyramid by a robotic camera is hidden and now unreachable voids.

Results have recently been returned and show that the wood can be dated to somewhere in the period 3341-3094BC – some 500 years earlier than historical records which date the Great Pyramid to the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu in 2580-2560BC.

This supports the idea that – whatever their use – the Dixon Relics were original to the construction of the Great Pyramid and not later artifacts left behind by those exploring the chambers.

Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections at the University of Aberdeen, said: “Finding the missing Dixon Relic was a surprise but the carbon dating has also been quite a revelation.

“It is even older than we had imagined. This may be because the date relates to the age of the wood, maybe from the center of a long-lived tree. Alternatively, it could be because of the rarity of trees in ancient Egypt, which meant that wood was scarce, treasured, and recycled or cared for over many years.

“It will now be for scholars to debate its use and whether it was deliberately deposited, as happened later during the New Kingdom when pharaohs tried to emphasize continuity with the past by having antiquities buried with them.

“This discovery will certainly reignite interest in the Dixon Relics and how they can shed light on the Great Pyramid.”

1,000-year-old cross buried in Scottish field thought to have belonged to the king

1,000-year-old cross buried in Scottish field thought to have belonged to the king

Since painstaking restoration, a stunning Anglo-Saxon silver cross has arisen from under 1,000 years of encrusted dirt. Such is its quality that whoever commissioned this treasure may have been a high-standing cleric or even a king.

It was a sorry-looking object when first unearthed in 2014 from a ploughed field in western Scotland as part of the Galloway Hoard, the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in Britain or Ireland, acquired by the National Museums Scotland (NMS)

The tiniest glimpses of its gold-leaf decoration could be spotted through its grubby exterior, but its stunning, intricate design had been concealed until now. A supreme example of Anglo-Saxon metalwork has been revealed.

The equal-armed cross was created by a goldsmith of outstanding skill and artistry. Its four arms bear the symbols of the four evangelists to whom tradition attributed the gospels of the New Testament: Saint Matthew (man), Mark (lion), Luke (cow) and John (eagle).

Dr Martin Goldberg, the NMS principal curator of early medieval and Viking collections, recalled his “wonderment” after seeing the cross in a gleaming state.

He told the Observer: “It’s just spectacular. There really isn’t a parallel. That is partly because of the time period it comes from. We imagine that a lot of ecclesiastical treasures were robbed from monasteries – that’s what the historical record of the Viking age describes to us. This is one of the survivals. The quality of the workmanship is just incredible. It’s a real privilege to see this after 1,000 years.”

The Galloway Hoard was buried in the late 9th century in Dumfries and Galloway, where it was unearthed by a metal detectorist in 2014.

The cross was among more than 100 gold, silver and other items, including a beautiful gold bird-shaped pin and a silver-gilt vessel. Incredibly, textile in which the objects had been wrapped was among organic matter that also survived.

The Galloway Hoard, which includes more than 100 items, was acquired by National Museums Scotland

Goldberg said: “At the start of the 10th century, new kingdoms were emerging in response to Viking invasions. Alfred the Great’s dynasty was laying the foundations of medieval England, and Alba, the kingdom that became medieval Scotland, is first mentioned in historical sources.”

Galloway had been part of Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, said Goldberg, and was called the Saxon coast in the Irish chronicles as late as the 10th century. But this area was to become the Lordship of Galloway, named from the Gall-Gaedil, people of Scandinavian descent who spoke Gaelic and dominated the Irish Sea zone during the Viking age.

“The mixed material of the Galloway Hoard exemplifies this dynamic political and cultural environment,” Goldberg added.

“The cleaning has revealed that the cross, made in the 9th century, [has] a late Anglo-Saxon style of decoration. This looks like the type of thing that would be commissioned at the highest levels of society. First sons were usually kings and lords, second sons would become high-ranking clerics. It’s likely to come from one of these aristocratic families.”

The pectoral cross has survived with its intricate spiral chain, from which it would have been suspended from the neck, displayed across the chest.

The chain shows that the cross was worn. Goldberg said: “You could almost imagine someone taking it off their neck and wrapping the chain around it to bury it in the ground. It has that kind of personal touch.”

Conservators carved a porcupine quill to create a tool that was sharp enough to remove the dirt, yet soft enough not to damage the metalwork.

Dr Leslie Webster, former keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: “It is a unique survival of high-status Anglo-Saxon ecclesiastical metalwork from a period when – in part, thanks to the Viking raids – so much has been lost.”

Why the hoard was buried remains a mystery. Goldberg said that the cross now raises many more questions and that research continues.

The exhibition, Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure, will be at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Mysteries of the 2,500-year-old butter found at the bottom of a loch

Mysteries of the 2,500-year-old butter found at the bottom of a loch

In Perth and Kinross, butter dated back 2,500 years was discovered at the bottom of a loch. Within a wooden butter bowl, manufactured by an Iron Age culture, traces of milk content were found preserved.

Archaeologists at the bottom of Loch Tay uncovered the wooden dish, where at least 17 crannogs, or Iron Age wooden houses, once stood.

Built from alder with a lifespan of around 20 years, the structures simply collapsed into the loch once they had served their purpose, taking the objects inside with them.

The replica crannog on Loch Tay, where the butter was found

The crannogs were considered high-status sites which offered good security as well as easy access to trading routes along the Tay and into the North Sea.

Rich Hiden, the archaeologist at the Scottish Crannog Centre, said conditions at the bottom of the loch had offered the perfect environment to preserve the butter and the dish.

He said: “Because of the fantastic anaerobic conditions, where there is very light, oxygen or bacteria to break down anything organic, you get this type of sealed environment.

“When they started excavating, they pulled out this square wooden dish, well around three-quarters of a square wooden dish, which had these really nice chisel marks on the sides as well as this grey stuff.”

Analysis on the matter found it was dairy material, with experts believing it likely originated from a cow. Holes in the bottom of the wooden dish suggest it was used for the buttering process.

The butter then may have been turned into cheese by adding rennet, which naturally forms in a number of plants, including nettles.

Mr Hiden added: “This dish is so valuable in many ways.

“To be honest, we would expect people of this time to be eating dairy.

The 2,500-year-old butter dish and the remains of the butter.

“In the early Iron Age, they had mastered the technology of smelting iron ore into to’s so mastering the technology of dairy we would expect.

“So while it may not surprise us that they are eating dairy, what is so important about this butter dish is that it helps us to identify what life was like in the crannogs and the skills and the tools that they had.

“To me, that is archaeology at its finest. It is using the object itself to unravel the story.

“The best thing about this butter dish is that it is so personal and offers us such a complete snapshot of what was happening here.

“It is not just a piece of wood. You look at it and you start to extrapolate so much.

“If you start to pull one thread, you look at the tool marks and you see they were using very fine chisels to make this kind of object.

“They were probably making their own so that gives another aspect as to how life was here.”

It is believed that 20 people and animals lived in a crannog at any one time. Many trees were used to fashion the homes, with hazel woven into panels to make walls and partitions.

Metal Detectorist In Scotland Unearths Rare Medieval Knife

Metal Detectorist In Scotland Unearths Rare Medieval Knife

Scottish history enthusiast and metal detectorist Craig Johnstone had worked out that woods near Penicuik were probably an escape route from a 1666 battle and he went to see what he could find.

But after coming across some musket balls which confirmed his theory, he unearthed something which turned out to be much older and unusual – a small, highly-decorated knife and scabbard which has been dated between 1191 and 1273.

“When I found the knife it was covered in mud,” he said. “The knife was stuck inside the scabbard and I thought it was the top of a railing someone had cut off.

“I showed it to a couple of people and one of my friends worked for Midlothian council – he took it into their archaeologist and straight away she knew it was a knife. The knife and its scabbard have been dated to between 1191 and 1273

The knife and its scabbard have been dated to between 1191 and 1273

“She advised us to heat it up slowly so we put it in the oven at really low heat with the door open. It was a pure Excalibur moment for me when I pulled out the handle and there was a blade.”

There were also two pieces of leather inside the scabbard to protect the knife. Mr Johnstone, who lives in Penicuik and has his own data communications business, took his find from Deanburn woods to an independent expert in Edinburgh. “He knew it was from the medieval period, but he didn’t realise how early it was – he thought maybe the 16th century.

“After that, I realised I had better report it to Treasure Trove – but they dismissed it as a ‘relatively modern item’.”

The knife is highly decorated and could have belonged to a nobleman.

Undeterred, he paid to have it carbon-dated privately and was told it could be over 800 years old, originating between 1191 and 1273.

“I wasn’t expecting it to come back with such an early date.”

He passed the carbon-dating details to Treasure Trove and the knife is due to be considered by the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel. Mr Johnstone said the knife was about the same size as a skean dhu. “The blade is only about three inches and it’s a high-grade, hollow-ground blade.

Craig Johnstone had only been metal-detecting for six months when he found the knife

“It’s a very highly decorated item for its time. The blade would have had a silver leaf on it, the handle is bronze would have been covered in gold.

“It would have belonged to a nobleman or someone of some substance.

“This is an important item. There’s never been one found before that’s as early as this.”

Mr Johnstone had only been metal-detecting for about six months when he made his discovery. He has since found a bronze age spearhead which has been dated around 1500 BC and he received £200 for it.

Metal Detectorist In Scotland Unearths Rare Medieval Knife
The scabbard, knife and leather insert were unearthed at Deanburn woods, Penicuik

The scabbard, knife and leather insert were unearthed at Deanburn woods, Penicuik.

But he says: “None of this is about the money or how much these things are worth. It’s about Scottish history and the knife getting the recognition it deserves.”

A Treasure Trove spokeswoman said: “This is a highly unusual object, comprising of a blade with a hilt and a metal scabbard with leather inside. While the leather and blade date from the medieval period, the hilt and scabbard are unusual for the period.

“Treasure Trove is still carrying out investigations into the object. It was due to be x-rayed as part of the investigation process, but this has unfortunately been delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions.”

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland

The Oban Times reports that metal detectorists discovered a cache of more than 200 musket balls, coins, and gold and gilt buttons in southern Scotland on property near the shore of Loch nan Uamh that was owned by Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair, Gaelic tutor to Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Hoard of Jacobite Ammunition Unearthed in Scotland
Paul Macdonald, Gary Burton and David McGovern made the discovery near Lochailort in September.

The items are thought to be part of a shipment landed just a fortnight after the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.

Paul Macdonald, David McGovern and Gary Burton were using metal detecting equipment – with the landowner’s permission – when they made the find recently on the shore of Loch nan Uamh, near Lochailort.

The historical items were uncovered near a ruined croft house that once belongs to the prince’s Gaelic tutor, and has now been reported to Treasure Trove in Scotland.

This is an official organisation which ensures objects of cultural significance from Scotland’s past are protected for the benefit of the nation and preserved in museums across the country.

Over 200 musket balls were among the finds.

Originally from Glenuig, Mr Macdonald, of the Conflicts of Interest battlefield archaeology group, said the find had been made in early September on the Rhu peninsula.

‘For around 250 years there, a hoard had lain undisturbed by one particular croft. The complete hoard included 215 musket balls and a number of gold and silver-gilt buttons, coins and some other non-ferrous items on the northern coast of Loch nan Uamh,’ said Mr Macdonald.

‘It was really just a case of joining the dots so to speak, from what history records. It is known that arms had been landed in 1746 in this area.

‘From what the finds tell us to date, the musket balls were cast for use, yet never fired and correspond with the same calibre of musket balls landed nearby with French arms for the Jacobite Rising by the ships Mars and Bellone on the 30th April 1746.

‘The arms were, of course, landed a couple of weeks after the Battle of Culloden and never saw service, but were rapidly distributed and hidden locally.

‘What we also know about the find-spot is that the now-ruined croft was once inhabited by the famous Clanranald bard, Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair, who was an officer in the ’45 Rising and served as Gaelic tutor to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. He lived out his later years here at this croft until his death in 1770.

‘The find has been reported to Treasure Trove where it may through the process from there hopefully find its way to a Scottish museum.’

As to the value of the artefacts, Mr Macdonald said the find is significant but more in terms of historical worth than financial.

‘It is a very nice find and we were delighted with locating another part of the story of the prince and the Jacobite Rising.’

‘Very Angry Badger’ Seizes Part Of 500-Year-Old Scottish Castle

‘Very Angry Badger’ Seizes Part Of 500-Year-Old Scottish Castle

A 16th-century Scottish castle noted for its impressive defences has proved to be no match for a “very angry badger“.

Craignethan Castle in South Lanarkshire, south-east of Glasgow, was breached by the nocturnal mammal, forcing staff to close the stronghold’s cellar tunnel to the public.

“We’re trying to entice it out with cat food [and] send it home,” Historic Scotland tweeted.

It is believed the badger has since retreated from the tunnel.

“Our works team have used a Go Pro this morning to view the tunnel and it seems our visitor has vacated.”

“We’ll keep the tunnel closed in the interim while we do a little housekeeping following its visit.”

According to Historic Environment Scotland, Craignethan Castle is the last great private stronghold built in Scotland.

Craignethan Castle, which was under siege by a “very angry badger.”

Badgers are a protected species in the United Kingdom and cannot be willfully killed, injured or taken.

Their burrows, also known as setts, are also protected.

Badgers are described by the Scottish Wildlife Trust as one of Scotland’s “most charismatic mammals”.

Badger takes cat nap

Craignethan Castle was not the first time a badger has found itself under the wrong roof.

In October, Scotland’s Animal Welfare Charity was called to a home in Linlithgow, west of Edinburgh, after a badger snuck in through a cat flap.

Animal Rescue officer Connie O’Neil said the badger ate all the cat food before going for a sleep on the cat bed.

“I got a surprise when I arrived at the property and saw a badger having a nap,” Ms O’Neil said.

“He didn’t seem too happy when I tried to move him but I was able to slide the cat bed round and it was then that the badger noticed the back door was open so made a run for it.”

Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Mike Flynn said it was highly unusual for a wild badger to enter a house and urged people not to go near them as they could be aggressive when injured or cornered.

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland

The Scotsman reports that researchers have discovered traces of 23 structures dated to as early as 800 B.C. on heavily ploughed land in eastern Scotland, near the coast of the North Sea, ahead of a construction project.

The study is now continuing to decide whether the site has a flourishing domestic settlement or more industrial operation.

Proof has been identified of at least 23 structures on the land, which is due to be developed by Claymore Homes, with some pottery and flint tools also found.

Iron Age Site Found in Scotland
Archaeologists at work on the site of an Iron Age settlement near Cruden Bay, Aberdeenshire.

The settlement may be estimated to be from 800 BC to 400 AD with large amounts of charcoal and other organic material now undergoing testing at the archaeology department at Aberdeen University in the search for an accurate timeline.

Ali Cameron, of Cameron Archaeology, first started working on the site in 2017 with the full extent of the settlement only now coming to light.

She said a find of such a scale was ‘very exciting’ with ‘a lot of hope’ pinned on the analysis of the samples.

She said: “ There are at least 23 structures there which date to the Late Prehistoric period. Some of the ditches were full of charcoal. We have more than 300 samples so we are going to get a really good picture of the dating.”

She added that the organic remains would help build up an understanding of what the site was being used for.

The archaeologist said: “If you get a lot of grain, you might be looking at a domestic site, for example. It might help determine what was happening in a particular building.

“We are pinning a lot on those samples.

“It could be that this was more of an industrial site. There are so many buildings over a huge area. We have got a lot more work to do.”

Ms Cameron said the land had been ‘so heavily ploughed’ that only a handful of artefacts had been found. She said there was little-known activity in the Cruden Bay area around the same time the settlement is thought to date from.

“The site is higher up and you get this fantastic view over the bay. It’s a great location and you can imagine why people wanted to settle there,” Ms Cameron added.

The site is due to be developed by Claymore Homes.

Ms Cameron said the company had been ‘fully supportive’ of all the archaeological works with the firm paying for the excavation, the analysis of finds, processing of samples and the publication of a report in an archaeological journal.

Mike Shepherd, of the Port Errol Heritage Group, told the Press and Journal: “You sometimes get told in Cruden Bay that it never gets boring here and the history of the place shows that this has been true for a very long time.

“The discovery of a prehistoric settlement here is astonishing. Just consider it: an ancient village which has been forgotten for centuries and is now finally, gradually coming to light.

“There will be a great curiosity to find out more about these ancient people who long ago made our place their place.”

The long-Lost Dark Age Kingdom Unearthed in Scotland

The long-Lost Dark Age Kingdom Unearthed in Scotland

Archaeologists started excavations at Trusty’s Hill, they have discovered ancient picturesque patterns etched into a rock surface near the site entrance.

The sculptures were rare in the area, well south of where Pictish carvings had usually been found. (Roman writings of around A.D. 300 described the Picts as the hostile tribes of the region north of the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde; they are thought to have been a loose confederation of Celtic tribes, but their exact origins are uncertain.)

What the archaeologists uncovered at the site turned out to be a complex type of fort, dating to around A.D. 600.

A laser scan of part of the carved Pictish symbols found at Trusty’s Hill. Researchers believe these carvings may have had a role in royal inaugurations at the site.

A wooden and stone rampart had been built around the summit of the hill to fortify the site, in addition to other defensive structures and enclosures on its lower slopes. The style was consistent with other high-status settlements of the early medieval period in Scotland.

This was not a run-of-the-mill agricultural settlement, in other words, but a far more important centre. Dr David Bowles, a Scottish Borders Council archaeologist and co-director of the dig, believes its inhabitants likely managed the farming and natural resources of a much larger estate.

As Bowles told the Independent of the settlement’s influence: “Control was maintained by bonding the people of this land and the districts beyond to the royal household, by gifts, promises of protection and the bounties of raiding and warfare.”

Just how influential was this royal settlement? According to Ronan Toolis of GUARD Archaeology, which led the dig, the archaeological evidence collected at Trusty’s Hill “suggests that Galloway may have been the heart of the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged, a kingdom that was in the late sixth century pre-eminent amongst the kingdoms of the north.”

Thistle-headed iron pin from Trusty’s Hill. Analysis showed that this was originally embellished with copper alloy inlay decoration. Thistle head decorated pins have been found in Dark Age sites across south-west Scotland demonstrating that the thistle emblem goes back a long way in Scotland.

Toolis, Bowles and their team believe the entranceway, with the two Pictish symbols flanking it, was the location for royal inauguration ceremonies that took place at the fort complex.

They also found evidence of leatherworking and wool spinning operations at the site, along with the remains of a metal workshop that appears to have produced high-quality work in gold, silver, iron and bronze.

The remains of a copper alloy horse mount found at Trusty’s Hill. Archaeologists believe artefacts like this one point to an upper-class society of royal distinction.

Among the kingdoms of Dark Age Britain, Rheged has remained the most elusive. The kingdom and its powerful warrior king, Urien, inspired some of the earliest medieval poetry composed in Britain, by the poet Taliesin.

In some Arthurian legends, Urien is said to have married Morgan Le Fay, King Arthur’s sister. Their marriage was reportedly not a happy one; in one version of events, Morgan plotted to use the sword Excalibur to kill Urien and Arthur and take the throne herself with her lover, Accolon.

Surviving fragments of early medieval historical records also show Urien’s dominance in southern Scotland and northern England, before a rival group destroyed the settlement in the early seventh century.

But despite its historical importance, the location of the kingdom of Rheged has long been unknown. Previously, historians thought it might have been centered in Cumbria, a county in northwestern England.

Researchers studying Trusty’s Hill in Scotland believe the site may have been the royal seat of power for the lost Dark Age kingdom of Rheged. This illustration recreates what the royal stronghold may have looked like around AD 600.
The Dark Ages kingdom of Rheged, dating back more than 1,400 years, may have had its seat of power on the modern day ‘Trusty’s Hill’ in Galloway

Bowles and Toolis laid out the excavation’s findings in their book “The Lost Dark Age Kingdom of Rheged,” published this month. As Bowles puts it: “This was a place of religious, cultural and political innovation whose contribution to culture in Scotland has perhaps not been given due recognition. Yet the influence of Rheged, with Trusty’s Hill at its secular heart…and Urien its most famous king, has nevertheless rippled through the history and literature of Scotland and beyond.”