IT REMAINS one of the most remarkable Scottish archaeological excavations of
all time, carried out by a self-taught amateur, and without the benefit of
the aerial photographs and geophysical surveys that are considered essential
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
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
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 www.curlesnewstead.org.uk
- 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
"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
Mike Bishop, a lecturer, publisher and an expert in Roman armour, spent
three months faithfully transcribing Curle's report on to the internet, page
He said: "It is without doubt one of the best archaeological documents ever
written about any of Scotland's Roman settlements."