Category Archives: Scots

Leatherback turtles in the Orkney Islands

Species: Some cold turtles, seen off the coast of the Orkney Islands, probably leatherbacks (Demochelys coriacea), also some chilled-out pet tortoises (sp. unclear).

Source: Scotia Illustrata (Scotland Illustrated), a complete geography of Scotland written in early enlightenment Scotland by Robert Sibbald.

Date: First published 1684 CE.

Highlights: This blog post introduces, translates and comments what I believe to be the earliest record of a marine turtle (most probably a leatherback) from Britain. This record, from Robert Sibbald’s Scotia Illustrata has been overlooked by previous scholars because the book is only available in difficult Latin. It is a decade older, and more certain than the previous oldest record.

leatherback turtle bigger than himan

Photograph of leatherback turtle with Marian Garvie and other, unknown, taken by Steve Garvie, licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0.
You too can grow up this big and strong on a diet of Natural History and jellyfish.


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The Early Extinction Date of the Beaver (Castor fiber) in Britain: paper now available

Species: Beaver (Castor fiber)

Source: My paper looks at an exhaustive list of reliable historical documents, selected depending on their reference to other wild species of mammal.

Date: The texts range from  c.1200-1607 in south Britain and 1526-1684 in Scotland. Beavers are only found in those at the start of each period.

Highlights: If beavers were still around in south Britain after 1300 and Scotland after 1600 they must have suddenly started hiding-out.

beaver by river

Photograph of European beaver by Harald Olsen, licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

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The Eildon Tree in ‘The Romance of Thomas of Erceldoune’ (Thomas the Rhymer)

La Belle Dame sans Merci

Patron’s La Belle Dame sans Merci painting, photo taken by Sofi.

Species mentioned: One tree, not a hawthorn (mayflower; Crataegus sp.) as commonly thought. Possibly oak (Q. robur).

Source: The medieval ‘Romance of Thomas of Erceldoune’, not to be confused with the later ‘Ballad of True Thomas’.

Date of Source: c.1350-1400.

Highlights: The shining lady that slimy Thomas of Erceldoune seduced under the Eildon tree turned out to be the Fairy Queen. She apparently took him seriously when he offered to stay with her forever, and drags him to her Otherworld realm as a paramour. Oops.

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