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Team of researchers discover evidence of much larger pottery industry in Scotland

4 July 2011

A team of researchers, funded by Historic Scotland, have discovered evidence of a much larger pottery industry in Scotland in the early 12th century than was previously documented.

By applying new identification methods to determine the origin of Scottish redware pottery and tiles, the researchers have been able to pinpoint for the first time different sources of production – even to the extent of identifying sites half a mile apart.

It had been thought that a lot of the medieval tiles found in Scotland had been produced in the Low Countries, however new research suggests that the industry in Scotland was much larger than suspected, and certainly less dependant on imports.

The team looked at ceramic samples from kiln sites and a number of major abbeys such as Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose and Glenluce, along with castles and palaces such as Cadzow, Linlithgow and Dirleton. The result of isolating clay sources suggests that production was both much more diffuse and prevalent than previously thought.  

The team have been conducting their research over the past ten years. The project has been funded by Historic Scotland and much of the research was conducted on collections held by Historic Scotland and National Museums Scotland.

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop said;

“This is an exciting breakthrough in using new methods to develop our understanding of the past.

“This study shows that by applying innovative solutions to historical research we can continue to strip away the layers and learn more about our ancestors and how they lived.”

The team, which incorporated researchers George Haggarty, Derek Hall and Simon Chenery, made the discovery after applying ICPS (Inductively Coupled Mass Spectroscopy) to the sourcing of the Scottish medieval and industrial redware tiles and pottery. This technique, which effectively identifies chemical ‘signatures’, is crucial to identifying the precise origin of ceramics and its increased use has the potential to change our understanding of the past – not only in Scotland but within a European and potentially a global context.

Rod McCullagh for Historic Scotland said;

“We are delighted to have supported this ground breaking project.

“The application of the technology in this way allows you to source – in a far more detailed way than has ever been possible before- the exact production location of ceramic items.

“This will not only enhance our understanding of Scotland at this time and how it developed but also has huge potential for researchers working with ceramics across continents and centuries.”

“It may also be possible to use this research method to help to identify Scottish pottery in foreign markets, perhaps allowing us to identify more and better evidence for Scotland’s Medieval proto-entrepreneurs, which is a very exciting development.”

The findings are now available in a new ‘Medieval Pottery Research Group’ volume entitled ‘Sourcing Scottish Redware’.

Notes for editors

  • Historic Scotland is an executive agency of the Scottish Government charged with safeguarding the nation’s historic environment. The agency is fully accountable to Scottish Ministers and through them to the Scottish Parliament.

For further information

Jennifer Johnston-Watt
Communications and Media Officer
Communications and Media
0131 668 8070 or 07827 956 866