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Scottish Archaeologists Discover Only Surviving Traces of Razed Medieval Town

An 18th-century duke seeking to transform his estate into parkland ordered the village of Netherton’s destruction

Artist’s reconstruction of historic structures at the site of Netherton Cross, a 10th- or 11th-century religious sculpture that has since been relocated (© Jennifer Colquhoun)
smithsonianmag.com

Archaeologists have uncovered the remnants of four 14th- through 17th-century buildings off a highway near Bothwell, a satellite town of Glasgow, Scotland.

As Jody Harrison reports for the Scottish Herald, a team from GUARD Archaeology surveyed the area in 2014 and 2015, ahead of planned improvements to the M8, M73 and M74 motorways. In addition to discovering traces of the “lost village of Netherton,” the researchers unearthed shards of medieval pottery, copper coins, tobacco pipes and other artifacts. Their findings are newly published in the journal Archaeology Reports Online.

During the medieval period, the excavation site was located near a 12th-century motte-and-bailey, or fortified castle, and a 15th-century collegiate church. Per Newsweek’s Soo Kim, Netherton Cross, a 10th- or 11th-century religious monument that lent the settlement its name, stood in the area for hundreds of years but was moved to a Hamilton parish church in the early 20th century.

“In the area where the cross once stood is a marker stone and close by the remains of four medieval structures,” write the archaeologists in the study. “… Remarkably, these remains survived, literally on the edge of the existing hard shoulder of the M74, with some remains extending southwest underneath the road foundations.”

Radiocarbon dating suggests that people settled in the area in the early 1300s and remained there until around 1625, according to a statement. Experts uncovered metalworking remains at the site, which could indicate that its medieval inhabitants smelted iron and practiced blacksmithing.

Iron Dagger Details
The village's inhabitants may have buried this iron dagger to protect themselves and their home from danger. (© GUARD Archaeology Ltd.)

Canmore, Historic Environment Scotland’s online database, notes that the Duke of Hamilton ordered the removal of houses surrounding the Netherton Cross in the 18th century, when he and his descendants transformed the family estate into an expansive park with wide pathways and enclosures.

Highway construction work subsequently destroyed most of the village’s remains—but the four recently discovered structures remained relatively unscathed.

Among the most intriguing finds made at the site is a 2,000-year-old iron dagger. According to the Scotsman’s Alison Campsie, 17th-century Scots buried the weapon in a sheath, likely in hopes of protecting themselves and their home from harm.

“Mineralized organic material on its blade suggests it was sheathed when buried, and that it was probably intact and still useable at that time,” says Gemma Cruickshanks, a post-excavation officer at National Museums Scotland, in the statement. “The form of this dagger is indistinguishable from Iron Age examples, indicating this simple dagger form had a very long history.”

The researchers speculate that Netherton’s inhabitants deliberately placed other objects, like gaming pieces, a spindle whorl and a whetstone, near the dagger for practical or ritualistic reasons. National Museum Scotland points out that such charms and talismans were used to protect against disease, witchcraft and other misfortunes.

“The special or talismanic qualities of this dagger as a protective object may have enhanced the ritual act to protect the household from worldly and magical harm,” says study co-author Natasha Ferguson in the statement. “The deposition of these objects under the foundation level of one of the houses may have been intended to affirm this space as a place of safety for them and generations to come.”

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