Coins 'belonging to Scottish Highland clan chief murdered in Glencoe massacre' found underneath a fireplace

9 October 2023, 14:50

Archaeologists have found a hoard of coins that may have belonged to a clan leader killed in the Glencoe massacre
Archaeologists have found a hoard of coins that may have belonged to a clan leader killed in the Glencoe massacre. Picture: University of Glasgow

By Kit Heren

A trove of coins thought to belong to a Scottish clan chief who was killed in the infamous Glencoe massacre has been found in a fireplace.

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The coins may have belonged to Alasdair Ruadh "Maclain" MacDonald of Glencoe, who was clan chief from 1646-1692 and was killed by Scottish government troops.

The hoard of 36 coins was found beneath the remnants of a large stone fireplace that may been in a hunting lodge or a hall used for feasting. The coins included international currency.

The Glencoe massacre saw 92 members of the Macdonald clan killed on February 13, 1692, in retribution for taking part in the Jacobite uprising of 1689, and for failing to pledge allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary.

Archaeologists from the University of Glasgow found the artefacts at "the summerhouse of Maclain". The finds included European pottery, silver and bronze coins. They dated from the 1500s to 1680s.

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The coins were found in a site that may have been a hunting lodge
The coins were found in a site that may have been a hunting lodge. Picture: University of Glasgow

The coins were 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.

Whoever buried the coins may have been among the victims, as they did not come back for them.

Other finds 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."

Lucy Ankers, who discovered the hoard, examining the coins in a lab at the University of Glasgow
Lucy Ankers, who discovered the hoard, examining the coins in a lab at the University of Glasgow. Picture: University of Glasgow

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."

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."