Scientists Just Named the Oldest Tartan in Scotland

It's likely between 400 and 500 years old

Glen Affric tartan
John McLeish and Peter MacDonald of The Scottish Tartans Authority bring the Glen Affric tartan to curator James Wylie
Alan Richardson Pix-AR

Travel 15 miles west from Loch Ness and you’ll find yourself in Glen Affric. While this region of Scotland does not have any mysterious creatures lurking, it is home to peat bogs — one of which was the longtime resting place for a piece of tartan. Around 40 years ago, some of the tartan was removed, and now, historians and scientists have revealed just how significant this tartan is. As LiveScience reports, the centuries-old tartan has been revealed as the oldest tartan in existence. It will be on display at the V&A Dundee as part of a tartan-centric exhibit through 2024.

How, exactly, does one determine the age of a piece of tartan? An announcement from the museum details several components that led to this conclusion. The process involved both radiocarbon dating and analysis of the dye, a process that took six months to complete. Once it was over, the scientists who studied it concluded that the tartan dated from between 1500 and 1600. This makes it the oldest surviving example of tartan in the world.

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“We knew The Scottish Tartans Authority had a tremendous archive of materia,l and we initially approached them to ask if they knew of any examples of ‘proto-tartans’ that could be loaned to the exhibition,” said curator James Wylie in a statement. “I’m delighted the exhibition has encouraged further exploration into this plaid portion and very thankful for The Scottish Tartans Authority’s backing and support in uncovering such a historic find.”

And if you’re planning to be in or near Dundee in the coming months, you too could see a piece of Scottish history.

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