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The Scotsman

James Curle's escavations report on the web
May 15th, 2004
William Chisholm

It remains one of the most remarkable Scottish archaeological excavations of all time.
A hundred years ago a Melrose solicitor, James Curle, was hatching plans to unlock the secrets of the largest Roman settlement in Scotland, where Agricola’s army of 2,000 soldiers and 1,000 camp followers developed a sprawling fort and annexes on 340 acres in the lee of the Eildon Hills from 80AD.

His attention to detail in the project for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and the 420-page report he produced after the work at Trimontium was completed, survive as classic examples for modern Roman scholars and would-be archaeologists.
But copies of Curle’s A Roman Frontier Post and Its People have become relatively rare, often changing hands for £150 or more.
Now, thanks to an initiative by the Trimontium Trust, the book, complete with photographic plates and many of Curle’s pen and ink drawings, has been given its own internet site.
At a ceremony yesterday in Melrose Library, the website - - received the family seal of approval from Barbara Linehan, his only surviving daughter.
According to Donald Gordon, secretary of the trust: "We are always keen to promote interest in the Newstead site, and putting James Curle on the web seemed an appropriate way of marking the centenary of his amazing work."
Between 1905 and 1910 Curle directed workmen in a quest of discovery at a site that had lain virtually untouched for 1,900 years and would eventually become known as Trimontium. He even chipped in £65 of his own money to help.
Mr Gordon said: "During the 1890s and early 1900s the interest in exploring Roman sites in Scotland really took off.
"It was the birth of modern archaeology, and Mr Curle was one of the pioneers.
"Yet he was not supposed to become involved in the science at all. It was only when farmers and their staff started discovering Roman artefacts at Newstead, and took their finds to him to see what he could make of them, that he became really keen on the subject."
Curle’s brother Alexander was the real historian, and after his studies at Edinburgh University he went on to become director of the National Museum of Scotland and first secretary of the Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments.
He also discovered the Traprain Law treasure in East Lothian.
The recent discovery of the Curle notebooks has allowed researchers and museum officials to record every find and describe the daily happenings on the site.
Mike Bishop, a lecturer, publisher and an expert in Roman armour, spent three months faithfully transcribing Curle’s report on to the internet, page by page.
He said: "It is without doubt one of the best archaeological documents ever written about any of Scotland’s Roman settlements."


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