According to experts, the oldest tartan in Scotland dates back to the 16th century.

More than 400 years old, the checkered piece of fabric is the oldest tartan in Scotland, scientists have found.

Discovered in a peat bog in Glen Affric, Scotland, the faded fabric has traces of green and brown dye and was from an unknown clan.

It is believed to date back to the early 16th century, possibly during the reigns of James IV, James V, or Mary, Queen of Scots.

But experts say the tartan was most likely worn as “outdoor work clothes” and not worn by royalty.

Despite fading, tartan is in impressive condition in large part because peat bogs are anoxic environment, which prevents rotting.

Considered the oldest in Scotland, the Glen Affric tartan will be on display at V and A Dundee from next month.

Considered the oldest in Scotland, the Glen Affric tartan will be on display at V and A Dundee from next month.

A priceless fabric found in a peat bog at Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands belonged to an unknown clan.

A priceless fabric found in a peat bog at Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands belonged to an unknown clan.

Tartan was found in the Glen Affric peat bog about 40 years ago, but only now experts have determined its age.

Tartan Glen Affric

discoveredStory by: Glen Affric

come on: 400 years

Dimensions: 21 inches by 17 inches (55 cm by 43 cm)

clan: Unknown

Dye analysis and radiocarbon testing of the wool fabrics was commissioned by the Scottish Plaid Office (STA).

“The testing process took almost six months, but it was worth the effort and we are delighted with the results,” said Peter McDonald, Head of Research and Collections at STA.

“In Scotland, surviving samples of old fabrics are rare because the soil is not conducive to their survival.

“Because the piece was buried in peat, it means that it has not been exposed to the air and therefore it has been preserved.

“The tartan comes in several colors with many stripes of different sizes and therefore fits with what people think of as true tartan.”

The fabric, about 21 inches by 17 inches (55 cm by 43 cm), has criss-cross patterns that are still typical of tartans today.

The STA identified four original tartan colors that have since faded: green, brown, and possibly red and yellow.

Left to right: Chairman John MacLeish, James Wylie and Peter Macdonald Tartan History Curator, Scottish Tartans Authority, with Glen Affric's tartan.

Left to right: Chairman John MacLeish, James Wylie and Peter Macdonald Tartan History Curator, Scottish Tartans Authority, with Glen Affric’s tartan.

The artifact will be on public display at the Dundee Design Museum from 1 April to 14 January next year.

The artifact will be on public display at the Dundee Design Museum from 1 April to 14 January next year.

Dye analysis also confirmed the use of indigo or woad in green, but yielded no results for other colors, probably due to dye degradation.

But no artificial or semi-synthetic dyes were used in the manufacture of tartan, which led researchers to believe that it appeared before the 1750s.

A wide age range between 1500 and 1655 has been determined, but 1500 to 1600 was the most likely, making it the oldest known piece of true tartan found in Scotland.

It may have belonged to the Chisholm clan, who controlled the area at the time, although researchers cannot draw any definitive conclusions.

“While we can theorize about Glen Affric tartan, it’s important that we don’t build a story around it,” McDonald said.

“Although the Chisholm clan controlled this territory, we cannot attribute the tartan to them, since we do not know to whom it belonged.

“The potential presence of red, which the Gaels consider a status symbol, is interesting because of the more rustic nature of the fabric.

“You don’t associate this item with a king or a person of high status, most likely it is work clothes for outdoor activities.”

Tartans have been worn in the Highlands for a long time, although after that they were temporarily banned. Jacobite rising of 1745.

John MacLeish, chairman of the STA, said the “historical significance” of the tartan probably dates back to the reigns of James V, Mary, Queen of Scots, or James VI and I.

V&A Dundee curator James Wiley with Glen Affric tartan.  Researchers cannot draw unambiguous conclusions about which clan he belonged to.

V&A Dundee curator James Wiley with Glen Affric tartan. Researchers cannot draw unambiguous conclusions about which clan he belonged to.

James VI of Scotland became James I of England by the union of the Scottish and English crowns in March 1603.

His mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed in February 1587 after 19 years of captivity when she was found guilty of conspiring to kill her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

Further research into the fabric could reveal more information about the clan’s identity and how it was associated with Scotland at the time.

The artifact will be on public display at the Dundee Design Museum from 1 April to 14 January next year.

“Being able to exhibit Glen Affric tartan is extremely important for understanding the textile traditions that modern tartan comes from,” said James Wylie, curator at V&A Dundee.

“I’m sure visitors will appreciate the opportunity to see this on public display for the first time.”

Scotland in the 16th century

Scotland in the 16th century was marked by the Protestant Reformation and rivalry with England that included military battles.

At the beginning of the century, James IV (1488-1513) married Margaret, daughter of Henry VII of England.

He was killed during the Battle of Flodden against England in September 1513 and was succeeded by his son James V.

The reign of James V between 1513 and 1542 saw the birth of Protestantism in Scotland.

After King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in 1534, James V did not tolerate heresy, and during his reign a number of outspoken Protestants were persecuted.

James died in December 1542 after the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Solway Moss by English troops.

His only surviving legitimate child, Mary, succeeded him at just six days old.

Mary, Queen of Scots is depicted with her son, James VI and I;  in fact Maria saw her son for the last time when he was 10 months old

Mary, Queen of Scots is depicted with her son, James VI and I; in fact Maria saw her son for the last time when he was 10 months old

As the great granddaughter of Henry VII of England, Mary was next in line to the English throne after the children of Henry VIII.

In England, she became a political pawn in the hands of Queen Elizabeth I and spent 19 years imprisoned in various castles in England.

Mary was found to be plotting against Elizabeth; Code letters from her to others were discovered and she was found guilty of high treason.

After 19 years in captivity, Mary was found guilty of conspiring to kill her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.

She was executed on 8 February 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.

Her son, James VI of Scotland, became James I of England by the union of the Scottish and English crowns in March 1603.

Source: historic-uk.com/Encyclopædia Britannica.