A newly discovered hoard of coins buried in a small pot in Glencoe offers insights into the Glencoe Massacre and the life of a Highland clan chief and his family. The hoard of coins was hidden under a stone fireplace for safekeeping.
The site in Glencoe was used as a “summerhouse” and traditionally associated with Alasdair Ruadh “MacIain” MacDonald of Glencoe, chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe from 1646-1692.
The discovery was made by archaeologists from the University of Glasgow. The dates of the 36 coins found varied. However, none of the coins were minted after the 1680s, leading archaeologists to believe that they were most likely left under the fireplace for safekeeping just before or during the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. Whoever buried the coins did not recover them, suggesting that they were probably among the victims of the massacre.
University of Glasgow archaeology student Lucy Ankers said: “As a first experience of a dig, Glencoe was amazing. I wasn’t expecting such an exciting find as one of my firsts, and I don’t think I will ever beat the feeling of seeing the coins peeking out of the dirt in the pot.”
The MacDonalds took part in the first British Jacobite uprising in 1689, which resulted in the clan being targeted in the Glencoe Massacre of 1692. In late January 1692, two companies of the Earl of Argyll’s Foot Regiment, about 120 men, arrived in Glencoe from Invergarry. Their commander was Robert Campbell of Glenlyon. On February 13, 1692, an estimated 38 members and associates of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed.
Dr. Michael Given, co-director of the archaeological project at 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 the 13th February 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, as archaeologists, to hold in our hands these objects that were so much part of people’s lives in the past.”
Excavations carried out by the University of Glasgow show that the ‘summer house’ was a hunting lodge and banqueting hall used by the MacDonald chiefs in the 17th century for entertaining, hunting and public gatherings. Artifacts uncovered include high-status pottery and evidence of leather and glasswork.
Edward Stewart, Director of Excavations for the archaeological project at Glencoe, 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. Our previous investigations of the nearby summer shieling settlements offered an opportunity to understand how communities of herders lived and worked in these landscapes, now the excavation of ‘MacIain’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 within the structure adds an exciting dimension to this story.”
The discovered hoard of 36 silver and bronze coins includes coins dating from the late 1500s to the 1680s, including pieces from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James VI and I, Charles I, the Cromwellian Commonwealth and Charles II. Interestingly, the collection includes coins from France and the Spanish Netherlands, as well as a coin apparently originating from the Papal States.
The site of MacIain’s house has been fully excavated, and post-excavation analysis of finds and environmental samples is underway with the support of a team of enthusiastic archaeology students.