Coin hoard belonging to Highland clan chief discovered

Coin hoard belonging to Highland clan chief discovered
Scott MacDonald takes part in a memorial service to mark the anniversary of the Massacre of Glencoe (Andrew Milligan/PA)
PA Archive/PA Images - Andrew Milligan

A hoard of coins believed to have belonged to a Highland clan chief who was murdered in the Glencoe Massacre were discovered hidden under a fireplace during an archaeological dig.

The 17th century hoard of 36 coins included international currency, and was hidden beneath the remains of a grand stone fireplace at a site which was believed to have been a hunting lodge or feasting hall.

The site was associated with Alasdair Ruadh “Maclain” MacDonald of Glencoe, clan chief from 1646-1692, who was a victim of the Glencoe Massacre along with members of his family.

The MacDonalds took part in the first Jacobite rising of 1689, and were targeted in retribution with an estimated 82 clan members slaughtered on February 13 1692, including Maclain and his wife.

Artefacts discovered at “the summerhouse of Maclain”, included European pottery, and silver and bronze coins, dating from the 1500s to 1680s, during a University of Glasgow dig in August.

Currency from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James VI and I, Charles I, the Cromwellian Commonwealth, and Charles II – as well as France and the Spanish Netherlands and the Papal States – was found.

Historians believe whoever buried the coins may have been massacred as they did not return for them.

Other finds from the structure included musket and fowling shot, a gun flint and a powder measure, as well as pottery from England, Germany and the Netherlands and the remains of a grand slab floor.

Archaeology student Lucy Ankers, who found the hoard, said: “As a first experience of a dig, Glencoe was amazing. I wasn’t expecting such an exciting find as one of my firsts.

“I don’t think I will ever beat the feeling of seeing the coins peeking out of the dirt in the pot.”

The Glencoe Massacre happened during the Jacobite bid to restore a Catholic king to the throne, backed by the MacDonalds, who supported King James VII of Scotland and II of England after he fled to France.

In late January 1692, approximately 120 men from the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot arrived in Glencoe from Invergarry, led by Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.

Historians speculated the coins may have been buried on the morning of the massacre two weeks later.

Survivors ran up a side glen during a blizzard, and may have encountered the property.

Dr Michael Given, co-director of the University of Glasgow’s archaeological project in Glencoe, said: “These exciting finds give us a rare glimpse of a single, dramatic event.

“Here’s what seems an ordinary rural house, but it has a grand fireplace, impressive floor slabs, and exotic pottery imported from the Netherlands and Germany. And they’ve gathered up an amazing collection of coins in a little pot and buried them under the fireplace.

“What’s really exciting is that these coins are no later than the 1680s, so were they buried in a rush as the Massacre started first thing in the morning of February 13, 1692?

“We know some of the survivors ran through the blizzard and escaped up the side glens, including this one.

“Were these coins witnesses to this dramatic story? It’s a real privilege to hold in our hands these objects that were so much part of people’s lives.”

Coin hoardPot containing 36 silver and bronze coins in ‘summerhouse’ of Alasdair Ruadh ‘Maclain’ MacDonald of Glencoe (Gareth Beale/PA)

Edward Stewart, excavations director, said: “These excavations have allowed us to better understand how landscapes such as Glencoe might have been occupied and managed through the early modern period.

“The excavation of Maclain’s Summerhouse allows us to better understand the importance of these uplands to local elites.

“The scale of this structure and the wealth of artefacts uncovered within suggest this was a place where the MacDonald chiefs could entertain with feasting, gambling, hunting and libations. The discovery of this coin hoard adds an exciting dimension.

“Ordinary and everyday finds within this structure such as spindle whorls for making thread, a pitch fork, and a dress pin, speak to the everyday lives of those who lived here, worked the land and minded the cattle, allowing us to tell their stories.”

Derek Alexander, head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland, said: “The work undertaken in Gleann Leac-na-muidhe, and the range of artefacts recovered, in particular the discovery of the coin hoard, will make a lasting and significant contribution to our understanding of the history and archaeology of Glencoe.

“Gradually a fuller story is being pieced together, not just about the time of the infamous Massacre, but also of everyday life in the glen before and after 1692.”

Catriona Davidson, curator of Glencoe Folk Museum, said: “This is such an exciting moment for local heritage – finding objects like these creates such a tangible connection to the people who occupied the Glen in the past and inspires us to learn more about how they lived.”

The Conversation (0)