A piece of tartan discovered in a peat bog is the oldest ever found in Scotland, new research has found.

The fragment of fabric was found in Glen Affric around 40 years ago, with a previous analysis pointing to it being from before 1750 due to the absence of any artificial dyes.

Testing revealed the tartan, which measures around 55cm by 43cm, had initially been made up of four colours: green and brown and possibly red and yellow.

That research, carried out by analytical scientists from National Museums Scotland, confirmed the use of indigo or woad to make the green colour.

Now further testing, carried out at the SUERC Radiocarbon Laboratory in East Kilbride, has concluded that the fabric is the oldest 'true tartan' ever found in Scotland - the Falkirk ‘tartan’, dating from the early third century AD, is actually a simpler check pattern woven using undyed yarns.

The Herald:

The process involved washing out all the peat staining, which would have otherwise contaminated the carbon content of the textile.

The Radiocarbon testing results identified a broad date range between 1500 and 1655 AD, with the period between 1500 and 1600 AD the most probable.

Now the tartan will go on display for the first time at V&A Dundee’s Tartan exhibition opening on Saturday 1 April.

The exhibition examines tartan’s universal and enduring appeal through iconic and everyday examples of fashion, architecture, graphic and product design, photography, furniture, glass and ceramics, film, performance and art.

Peter MacDonald, Head of Research and Collections at The Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “The testing process has taken nearly six months but the effort was well worth it and we are thrilled with the results!

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“In Scotland, surviving examples of old textiles are rare as the soil is not conducive to their survival. As the piece was buried in peat, meaning it had no exposure to air and was therefore preserved.

“The tartan has several colours with multiple stripes of different sizes, and so it corresponds to what people would think of as a true tartan.

“Although we can theorise about the Glen Affric tartan, it’s important that we don’t construct history around it. Although Clan Chisholm controlled that area, we cannot attribute the tartan to them as we don’t know who owned it.

“The potential presence of red, a colour that Gaels considered a status symbol, is interesting because of the more rustic nature of the cloth. This piece is not something you would associate with a king or someone of high status; it is more likely to be an outdoor working garment.

Tartan at V&A Dundee opens on Saturday 1 April and runs until until 14 January 2024.

The Herald:

John McLeish, Chair of The Scottish Tartans Authority, said: “The Glen Affric tartan is clearly a piece of national and historical significance. It is likely to date to the reign of James V, Mary Queen of Scots, or James VI/I.

“There is no other known surviving  piece of  tartan from this period of this age. It's a remarkable discovery and deserves national attention and preservation.

“It also deserves to be seen and we’re delighted that it is to be included in the Tartan exhibition at V&A Dundee.”