Metal detection paves way for major dig

Archaeological dig at Philiphaugh Battlefield, Selkirk. Ian Brown from Galashiels searches for artefacts diring the archaeologists dig.
Archaeological dig at Philiphaugh Battlefield, Selkirk. Ian Brown from Galashiels searches for artefacts diring the archaeologists dig.
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METAL-detecting volunteers were finishing their work on the Philiphaugh battle site near Selkirk last weekend.

Experts from Glasgow University’s Centre for Battlefield Archaeology – the only one in the world – return next month to carry out a geophysics survey.

Archaeological dig at Philiphaugh Battlefield, Selkirk. Malcolm Moyers from Tweedbank gets down to metal detecting.

Archaeological dig at Philiphaugh Battlefield, Selkirk. Malcolm Moyers from Tweedbank gets down to metal detecting.

Finds directly to do with the 17th century battle itself have been small and include musket balls, a stirrup and part of a cannister shot, though caches already recovered include more musket balls and metal buckles.

Around 30 people trained in metal detecting searched the site to help with the £30,000 archaeological development of the 1645 battlefield.

Philiphaugh Community Project manager Julie Nock said: “The project is going well. We have had a wonderful response from the community who have helped immensely by volunteering their time and efforts.

She continued: “We will be going into local schools to talk about the project throughout June and get pupils interested in archaeology, and we will be inviting them to participate in some of the dig.”

The metal-detecting team of 33 volunteers split up into groups of up to 16 to search the battlefield area at the edge of Selkirk over the last two weeks. The archeology team’s surveyor plotted flag lines to mark where items were located.

Miss Nock said: “People have come forward with items, a huge cache of musket balls which came from the Cannonhaugh field and metal buckles from the leather strap that holds the sword in place – two very nice-condition buckles which were also found in the Cannonhaugh. And we have been given buttons from the period and coins.”

The teams checked the field next to the Waterwheel cafe, but had to work round crops in the next field towards Selkirk – closer to where experts believe the main engagement took place.

Miss Nock thanked helpers and volunteers.

She said: “The project fund is relatively small for an archaeological dig. They are very expensive and without the help of volunteers we just wouldn’t be able to do it. Some people in Selkirk have been putting the archaeologists up, which has kept costs down. We would have had to pay for accommodation otherwise, which would have taken quite a lot out of the budget.”

A date has yet to be set for the Glasgow University team to return to carry out the geophysics survey, when they will place pods in the ground and look at its structure to try to establish what is underneath. The archaeologists will look at the results of this, together with where the metal detectors made their finds, to decide where to set up the dig.

Archaeologist Natasha Ferguson, who is in charge of the work, said in her blog last Thursday: “We uncovered one musket ball and a piece of what appears to be cannister shot. The musket ball was very unusual as it seems to have an iron object set within it and a hole running through the centre.

“The cannister shot – musket balls placed in a can and fired from a cannon – have a very distinctive signature with facets all over the surface caused when the balls bounce off each other when fired. We also found a small coin which may be French and possibly dating to the mid-17th century.”

On Saturday, the last metal-detecting day, the team of volunteers found a handful of late 17-18th century coins, a pistol ball, a piece of buckshot or hailshot, buttons, a couple of buckles, a small blade and an ornate copper alloy walking cane end.

The September 1645 battle was a pivotal moment, says Selkirk historian Walter Elliot.

He explained: “It represents the decisive defeat of Montrose and his hitherto seemingly unbeatable Royalist forces by a Covenanting army commanded by Leslie. This was the end of Royalist hopes in Scotland and eventually led to a Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland under Cromwell.”

Signs about the battlefield went up alongside the A708 Selkirk to Moffat road near Selkirk earlier this month.

The £29,500 for the project has come from Philiphaugh Estate, Scottish Borders Leader Programme and Scottish Borders Council.