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Last Updated: Friday, 20 June, 2003, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
BBC uncovers Scots jungle history
Panama coast
Scotland hoped a Panama colony would increase its wealth
A BBC Scotland expedition has uncovered a major haul of artefacts from a failed attempt to create a wealthy Scottish empire in the Panama jungle.

The 17th century scheme - known as the Darien Venture - cost 2,000 lives, lost about half of the country's wealth and is said to have changed the course of Scotland's political history.

Many historians believe it also led many Scots to support the Act of Union and the abolition of the first Scottish Parliament in 1707.

A BBC Scotland film crew spent two weeks filming in the Panama jungle along with an international team of 12 archaeologists who helped retrace the steps of early Scottish pioneers.

During the expedition, the group found parts of the fortifications known as Fort St Andrews and the remains of huts in what was to be New Edinburgh, a communal oven and the wreck of a supply ship.

Darien had to be one of the boldest bids of its time, to set up a new colony - the basis for a new country - where the jungle was and still is the king.
Andrew Thomson
Director and producer

Also among the finds were Scottish pennies and a pocket sundial, musket balls, cannonballs, a grenade and tools.

All will be featured in 'Darien - A Disaster in Paradise' to be shown on BBC Two Scotland on Thursday, 10 July.

It will show dramatic reconstructions of the original venture - based on journals and letters sent by the original colonists - with actor Bill Paterson playing his namesake William Paterson, the visionary behind the venture.

Andrew Thompson, director and producer of the film, said they experienced similar conditions to that of the early settlers.

"When we first arrived there was nothing but thick, dense jungle. It took us days just to hack everything back so we could find what the Scots had left behind," he said.

Clearing the jungle
Clearing the jungle was the first task for filmmakers

He added: "Darien had to be one of the boldest bids of its time, to set up a new colony - the basis for a new country - where the jungle was and still is the king.

"On one level it was complete folly to put so much of Scotland's hopes for the future in one basket, but in another way you can see what they were trying to achieve.

"If Darien had succeeded, Scotland may have remained independent with the possibility that the United Kingdom would never have been created."

However, the programme reveals the likelihood of success was always slim as the Spanish believed they owned the area, which was their main gold trading route, and were determined not to let the Scots get hold of it.

Untypically the English were at peace with Spain - for the first time in 30 years - and would offer no assistance to the colonists.

Cannon balls
Musket and cannon balls found tell of the colony's bloody collapse

Leader of the expedition of international volunteers, Dr Mark Horton of Bristol University, said: "The absolute fatal flaw in the whole expedition was Scotland had not realised just how key this bit of land was to the Spanish because this was where all the gold and silver from South America was funnelled through.

"If they allowed the Scots into Darien then the Spanish Empire would have collapsed.

"New research and historical records in Madrid have shown that actually if the first campaign had failed the Spanish were mounting an even bigger one."


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