Lost village found next to Scottish motorway - with a dagger buried under remains of 17th Century house

Remains of a lost medieval village have been discovered next to a motorway with an ancient dagger found buried under one of the abandoned buildings.

An artist's reconstruction of how the settlement at Netherton Cross would have looked. It disappeared in the 18th Century as the Duke of Hamilton embarked on turning part of his estate into a vast parkland. PIC: Jennifer Colquhoun.

Traces of four buildings, which date from the 14th to 17th Century, have been discovered at Netherton Cross near Bothwell, North Lanarkshire, next to the hard shoulder of the M74.

Pottery – including sherds of cooking pots and bowls, a clay tobacco pipe, gaming pieces and evidence of metal working were found on the site in a series of “remarkable” discoveries.

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Six abandoned communities of Scotland
Archaeologists at the site of the "remarkable" discovery of a lost village right next to the hard shoulder of the M74. PIC: GUARD Archaeology.

Under one building, an intriguing collection of artefacts was found in the foundations. Among the items were a spindle whorl for weaving, a whetstone for sharpening tools, two 17th Century coins – and an iron dagger.

It is thought the dagger, which could date from the Iron Age, may have been left as part of a ritual to protect the building and its inhabitants from ‘magical’ harm.

Dr Natasha Ferguson, of GUARD Archaeology, one of the co-authors of the report, said: “The special or talismanic qualities of this dagger as a protective object may have enhanced the ritual act to protect the household from worldly and magical harm.

"The deposition of these objects under the foundation level of one of the houses may have been intended to affirm this space as a place of safety for them and generations to come."

Map showing the excavation site at Netherton Cross. PIC: GUARD Archaeology.

The practice of leaving special objects in medieval and post-medieval buildings is well documented and it was believed such a ritual would safeguard the building and its inhabitants.

The report found a “deliberate selection” of objects had been placed at the property.

It is believed the spindle whorl, gaming piece and the whetstone may have represented a personal connection to an individual, activity, or place that would make them special to the occupants.

The report added: “The dagger’s potential antiquity as a prehistoric object perhaps lent it a quality of otherness. Reuse of prehistoric objects as depositions in medieval settings has been recorded in excavations of medieval churches in England, and flint arrowheads were traditionally identified as ‘elf-bolts’ and long recognised for their malevolent magical properties.”

Dr Gemma Cruickshanks, of National Museums Scotland said it appeared the dagger was covered in a sheath at the time it was buried.

She added: “It was probably intact and still useable at that time. The form of this dagger is indistinguishable from Iron Age examples, indicating this simple dagger form had a very long history.”

Evidence of iron smelting, bloom refining and probable blacksmithing was also recovered, along with a selection of nails.

The settlement was close to the 10th Century Netherton Cross, which now stands in Hamilton Old Parish Church.

Netherton Cross is around 1km away from Bothwell Bridge, the scene of the 1679 battle which ended the Covenanter rebellion in Scotland.

“It is very possible the community was affected by the conflict, either suffering damage to property or as witness to the route of the Covenanter forces,” the report said.

Netherton vanished in the 18th Century given improvements to the estate by the Duke of Hamilton, with a well-ordered and symmetrical parkland built in its place.

The motorway then subsumed most of the village with the the four stone structures the last traces of the settlement.

The archaeological work was funded by Transport Scotland.

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