JCB beats archaeologists for Haining dig finds

The digger above its discovery at the Haining

The digger above its discovery at the Haining

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The first excavation of Selkirk Castle hasn’t found much, but a gas board digger did blunder through a 16th-century wall into a tunnel earlier this week.

Archaeologists and volunteers excavating the medieval motte and bailey atop the Haining’s woodlands have spent a week carefully hand-shifting tonnes of soil, for a handful of medieval artefacts.

But it took a gas board JCB just minutes on Monday morning to strike, and then gouge through, a metre-thick historic wall, tunnel or stairway.

Within a few more feet of scouring the trench, the digger hit, and scraped, the roof of another of the Haining’s mysterious tunnels.

The Haining Trust, in charge of preserving and presenting its heritage, had asked the gas board to install a new gas main to the Georgian mansion’s kitchen.

Locals and the council say they had advised that important archaeology lay in the area.

Archaeologists excavating Selkirk Castle up the hill grew alarmed when they heard the digger, and Scottish Borders Council’s archaeology officer Dr Chris Bowles arrived quickly to suggest it stop.

At first they believed the gas board had discovered foundations of the 16th-century, L-shaped Haining towerhouse, but now they believe it is servants’ steps to the basement, once the towerhouse’s ground floor.

Haining Trust trustee Susan Edington said: “We were, of course, aware of the proximity of the tunnel and were hoping we could bypass it.

“The exact siting of the tunnel was not known. We were, however, completely unaware of the existence of the tower.

“This is a very exciting find and we have engaged the archaeologists working on the castle to document the findings.”

On top of the motte in trench three, project director Charlotte Francoz, of Northlight Heritage, and Selkirk volunteer Jim Stillie found only clay during the dig, indicating the motte’s watchtower was wooden and had rotted over the centuries. Rain would have washed any cultural artefacts down the slope, the site of trench two within David I’s original bailey, where Maxton volunteer Richard Wales unearthed a stone spindle whorl, used to spin wool into yarn.

Trench leader Katy Firth said: “We’re hoping it’s medieval, or earlier. It means the textile industry has been in Selkirk for a very long time.”

Other finds include a shard of medieval green-glazed pottery and burnt animal bones confirmed as domestic waste.

Ms Francoz told us: “We’ve only opened up 0.1 per cent of the site, but we’ve found evidence of activity, if not structure. It’s been successful: we had to limit the number of volunteers because there was so much interest. The people who participated learned what we do every day, and did it professionally.”

Mr Stillie said: “We haven’t got a digger, we’ve only got mattocks and shovels – it makes you appreciate the Time Team. I’m enjoying it, I’m just disappointed we haven’t found more. The gas digger found more than us.”

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