An international team of archaeologists is currently working to identify a medieval palace in the Scottish Borders. The team, consisting of professionals and students from Australia, the USA, Canada, and the Netherlands, has gathered in a field near the village of Ancrum. Previous excavations have revealed the presence of a “substantial” medieval building, but its purpose remains unknown. The objective of the current dig is to determine the exact nature of the structure.
Historical documents indicate that the Bishop of Glasgow, William de Bondington, had a summer residence in Ancrum from the 1230s until his death in 1258. The palace hosted Scottish royalty, with Alexander II signing at least three charters there in 1236. Over time, the building on the Mantle Walls hillside gradually disappeared, as its stones were used to construct parts of the adjacent village. Local folklore has long placed the bishop’s palace at the site, and farming activities in the area have frequently unearthed fragments of medieval pottery and human bones.
In the 1990s, local resident Alistair Munro used dowsing rods to discover significant stretches of stonework beneath the field. This led to the attention of historians and archaeologists. A geophysical survey in 2011 supported Munro’s findings, and subsequent excavations in 2012 and 2019 yielded medieval ironwork and substantial stone walls. While these discoveries have strengthened the belief that Mantle Walls was indeed the residence of the Bishop of Glasgow, definitive evidence is elusive due to the removal of collapsed walls by builders in the 17th and 18th centuries and the prolonged activities of metal detectorists in the area.
Alistair Munro expressed his dedication to uncovering the truth about the site, stating that his initial discovery ignited a deep passion within him. The ongoing surveys and excavations continue to provide valuable information, and Munro hopes that the current dig will bring them closer to a definitive conclusion. The international team of archaeologists and students participating in the project highlights the widespread interest in uncovering the answers they seek. The previous surveys and digs have already elevated Mantle Walls to the status of a scheduled monument of national importance.
The current excavation, led by Ian Hill from HARP Archaeology, will focus on three or four pits surrounding the main protected area. Hill aims to determine the extent of the site and ascertain whether there were any additional buildings. Fourteen archaeology master’s students from various parts of the world have joined the two-week project, gaining valuable experience in working on an important dig. Cambridge University student Sully Newman expressed his enthusiasm for being part of the team and learning about medieval history and the role this building played in the landscape of the time. The excavations will continue until September 16.