The Glencoe clan chief and the 'hidden' 17-century coins buried under a fireplace

The coins were thought to have been stashed away for safekeeping around the time of the infamous Glencoe Massacre.

Archaeologists are set to return to an abandoned settlement in Glencoe where 16th and 17th coins were found buried in a property linked to a clan chief killed during the infamous massacre of 1692.

The 36 coins were inside a pot covered with a pebble and placed beneath a hearth stone at Achnacon in a house – or possibly a feasting hall – connected to Alasdair Ruadh "MacIain" MacDonald of Glencoe.

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The coins were found last year, with the discovery raising tantalising questions about why the items were put there – and when.

A replica 17th-century turf and creel house in Glencoe which would have stood throughout the area during the time of the infamous massacre. PIC: NTS/PA.A replica 17th-century turf and creel house in Glencoe which would have stood throughout the area during the time of the infamous massacre. PIC: NTS/PA.
A replica 17th-century turf and creel house in Glencoe which would have stood throughout the area during the time of the infamous massacre. PIC: NTS/PA.

The coins are dated to the late 1500s through to the 1680s and include pieces from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James VI and I, Charles I, the Cromwellian Commonwealth and Charles II. Some came from France and the Spanish Netherlands and another appears to have originated in the Papal States.

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Lost settlements of Glencoe studied for first time

Archaeologists from Glasgow University and National Trust for Scotland are due back at the site for further investigation as part of a programme of summer digs to highlight Scotland’s ‘international connections’ through time.

Dr Jeff Sanders, project manager at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland’s Dig It! project, which has organised the programme of digs, said: “Archaeology is all about piecing together stories from the past and Scotland Digs 2024: International Connections will highlight that Scotland’s story has always been intertwined with the wider world.

A coin hoard, pot and lid discovered during an archaeological dig in Glencoe. The coins were believed to have belonged to clan chief Alasdair Ruadh 'MacIain' MacDonald, who was a victim of Glencoe Massacre. PIC: PA.A coin hoard, pot and lid discovered during an archaeological dig in Glencoe. The coins were believed to have belonged to clan chief Alasdair Ruadh 'MacIain' MacDonald, who was a victim of Glencoe Massacre. PIC: PA.
A coin hoard, pot and lid discovered during an archaeological dig in Glencoe. The coins were believed to have belonged to clan chief Alasdair Ruadh 'MacIain' MacDonald, who was a victim of Glencoe Massacre. PIC: PA.

"In addition to co-ordinating events, organisations across the country will be sharing information about their projects and discoveries, which tell of the far-reaching trade networks, cultural exchanges and human migrations that shaped what is now Scotland.”

None of the Glencoe coins were minted after the 1680s, which has led archaeologists to suggest they were most likely deposited under the fireplace either just before or during the killings for safekeeping. The coins were also never collected, raising the spectre the person who buried them was killed during the massacre.

The programme of summer digs, which has a large public participation element and encourages volunteers to contribute to excavations, also includes the fascinating Knowe of Sandro site in Orkney.

A view of Glencoe. Archaeologists will return to the glen this summer to piece together more about those who lived there around the time of the 1692 massacre in which at least 38 people were killed on the orders of the state which claimed their clan failed to state allegiance to William III.A view of Glencoe. Archaeologists will return to the glen this summer to piece together more about those who lived there around the time of the 1692 massacre in which at least 38 people were killed on the orders of the state which claimed their clan failed to state allegiance to William III.
A view of Glencoe. Archaeologists will return to the glen this summer to piece together more about those who lived there around the time of the 1692 massacre in which at least 38 people were killed on the orders of the state which claimed their clan failed to state allegiance to William III.

The coastal site, which is disappearing into the sea due to erosion, is home to a large settlement occupied from around 1,000BC to 1,200AD. Iron Age roundhouses and Pictish buildings are found here, as well as a Viking settlement and a Norse Long Hall. Evidence of contact with the Roman Empire has also been found at the site, in the form of ancient glass fragments and coins.

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Excavations which are open to volunteers are also taking place at an Iron Age fort in Edinburgh’s Holyrood Park, Bedrule Castle in the Scottish Borders, the Neolithic complex at the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney and a Bronze Age cemetery and Iron Age fort in Stirling.

Susan O’Connor, head of grants at Historic Environment Scotland, said: “With such a wide range of events on offer and the chance for people at any level to get involved with and learn more about archaeology in Scotland, we’re thrilled to continue to support the vital work of Dig It!”

For a full list of volunteering opportunities at summer excavations organised by DigIt!, visit www.digitscotland.com

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