Medieval Palace: Discovery in the Scottish Borders

In the tranquil village of Ancrum, nestled within the enchanting Scottish Borders, a remarkable find has sent ripples of excitement through the realm of archaeology. Three decades ago, a dowser armed with intuition and divining rods detected enigmatic lines of stones buried beneath an unassuming harvested field. Today, a team of dedicated archaeologists and eager students from across the globe stand on the brink of unveiling a long-lost medieval bishop’s palace. Join us as we embark on this journey to explore the captivating tale of the Ancrum excavation.

A Glimpse into Medieval Ancrum

Medieval Palace
The palace walls have surfaced during the earlier excavation. ( Source )

Ancrum, situated near the historic town of Jedburgh, once thrived as a bustling agricultural hub in medieval times. Its stone-built thatched cottages formed a close-knit community surrounding a bustling central market square. At the heart of this village stood a formidable castle, symbolizing feudal authority reigning over the diligent farming population.

Unraveling the Mantle Walls Mystery

Medieval Palace
Archaeologists participating in the dig are revealing evidence of a significant medieval structure associated with ‘high status. ( Source )

Previous archaeological endeavors near Ancrum, at the enigmatic Mantle Walls site, unveiled the foundations of what experts described as “a substantial medieval building.” Yet, the purpose of this structure remained a perplexing enigma. According to historical records and findings, the revered Bishop of Glasgow, William de Bondington, used to frequent a summer residence in the vicinity between the 1230s and his passing in 1258 AD. It is this very connection that has led the researchers to believe they may have stumbled upon the long-lost Bishop’s palace.

When Magic and Science Collide

Medieval Palace
Students have also joined the excavation, and as the days pass, more evidence of a medieval palace structure is coming to light. ( Source )

The passage of centuries has not been kind to the Mantle Walls structure. Pillaging of its stones has been widespread, with many of its original ashlars finding their way into 18th and 19th-century buildings in Ancrum. Remarkably, beneath the ploughed fields, fragments of medieval and post-medieval pottery have surfaced, alongside the poignant discovery of human bones. Local folklore even weaves tales of this site being a palace where, in 1236 AD, King Alexander II signed “at least three charters.”

Historians and archaeologists have traditionally been skeptical of dowsers, individuals who claim to possess the uncanny ability to locate hidden water, structures, and lost artifacts beneath the earth’s surface using birch branches and bent coat hangers. However, the Ancrum Heritage Society tells a different story. In the 1990s, a local named Alistair Munro successfully dowsed the Mantle Walls site multiple times, pinpointing the initial stonework beneath the harvested fields. This event ignited the curiosity of archaeologists and set in motion the excavation we witness today.

Abundant Evidence, Yet a Lack of Definitive Proof

In recent years, geophysical surveys conducted in 2011 and 2019 have validated much of Munro’s dowsing-based mappings, unveiling substantial stone walls and even medieval ironwork. Archaeologists now express confidence that the Mantle Walls structure indeed served as the residence of the Bishop of Glasgow. However, despite the wealth of evidence, they have not uncovered irrefutable proof. The challenge lies not only in the extensive pillaging of ornate stones by builders in the 17th and 18th centuries but also in the prolonged activity of metal-detectorists in the area over the past three decades.

A Global Effort to Unearth the Past

The significance of this site is underscored by its listing as a scheduled monument of national importance. The ongoing excavations are being meticulously carried out by HARP Archaeology. Their focus extends to a series of pits surrounding the primary area, and these efforts will persist until the 16th of September. Alistair Munro, a rare example of a dowser who uncovered something of immense historical value, expressed hope that each survey and dig will bring us closer to definitively understanding the secrets this site holds.

Ian Hill, representing HARP Archaeology, informed the BBC that fourteen archaeology master’s students from various corners of the world have joined this two-week excavation. While a substantial medieval building has already been identified, the extent of the site and the possibility of additional structures remain mysteries waiting to be unraveled.

The Legacy of William de Bondington

As we delve deeper into the annals of history, we encounter William de Bondington, the medieval Bishop of Glasgow who made this rural building his summer abode. Serving as bishop from 1233 AD to 1258 AD, William’s era witnessed the rapid growth and expansion of the Bishopric of Glasgow, extending its ecclesiastical reach across southern Scotland. William de Bondington played a pivotal role in strengthening the church’s influence and expanding its reach. His contributions reverberate through time, with notable improvements made to the magnificent Glasgow Cathedral, leaving an indelible mark on the church and its operations during the Middle Ages.

In conclusion, the unfolding story of the excavation in Ancrum’s Mantle Walls site unveils a captivating blend of history, folklore, and modern science. As we eagerly await the revelation of conclusive proof linking this site to the Bishop of Glasgow’s residence, we are reminded of the intricate tapestry of our past that continues to unravel.

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