One of the oldest bridges in Scotland has been discovered underwater in a river, with archaeologists deeming it to be the most important medieval structure in the country.
The ‘lost’ Ancrum Bridge has been hidden beneath the waters of the River Teviot in the Scottish Borders for centuries, and has been carbon-dated back to the 1300s, to the reigns of David II of Scotland and Edward III of England.
The standing bridge is around 100 years older than others known to exist, and monarchs such as as James V and Mary Queen of Scots would have used it as part of ‘Via Regia’ (The Kings Way), on its way from Edinburgh to Jedburgh and the border with England.
Using radiocarbon dating of the bridge timbers, experts confirmed a date of the mid-1300s, making this the oldest scientifically dated remains of a bridge ever found in its original position across one of Scotland’s rivers.
Heritage body Historic Environment Scotland (HES) funded volunteer archaeologists the Ancrum and District Heritage Society (ADHS), who spent two years working with others on the Ancrum Old Bridge Project.
Kevin Grant, Archaeology Manager at HES, said: “HES are delighted to have played a part in funding one of the most exciting and significant archaeological discoveries in Scotland in recent years.
“This project shows that discoveries of immense importance remain to be found by local heritage groups –- and what can be achieved by bringing archaeological science and expertise together with local knowledge which has helped to unlock a centuries-held secret that will add to the fabric of Scotland’s story.”
Initial archive research by ADHS led to the discovery of cutwater platforms and oak timbers that once supported the piers of a multi-arched bridge – which are the last remaining, but crucially also the first built – parts of the bridge.
Using radiocarbon dating, archaeologists established it was in place for more than 400 years and was built using native oak – rarely found after 1450 when imported oak became more common.
Timber samples were sent to the Scottish Universities Environment Research Centre, in East Kilbride, for ‘wiggle match’ radiocarbon dating and returned the results, giving a date range in the middle of the 1300s.
Geoff Parkhouse from ADHS said: “Ancrum Old Bridge now has a 14th Century date.
“In Scotland there is not a standing bridge that is earlier than the 15th Century.
“In those times, during flood or highwater, the Ancrum Bridge may have been the only place to cross the Teviot between Hawick and Berwick, making it one of the most important structures in medieval Scotland.”