Archaeologist says Scotland's plan to establish a colony in 17th century central America wasn't daft after all

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For centuries the ruins in the swamps of southern Panama have been testament to Scottish folly, an attempt to create a tropical empire to rival those of the Spanish and Portuguese.

The five ships which sailed from Leith in the summer of 1698 carried the hopes of a nation. Success in Darien, a central American wilderness chosen as Scotland's gateway to the new world, would bring riches and power and guarantee independence.

Instead it brought disaster. In folklore, the Scots tried to colonise a region plagued by malarial swamp, the pioneers fell sick with fever, they starved and soon abandoned the isthmus.
The financial and psychological blow led to Scotland surrendering sovereignty in the 1707 Act of Union with England.

Three hundred years later there is fresh news from Darien and for Scottish nationalists it is bittersweet: the colony was not such a daft idea after all.

Mark Horton, an archaeologist and leading authority on the subject, has visited the remote rainforest and concluded that the site was actually well chosen and that the Scots could have succeeded - had it not been for the English.

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