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Archaeologists uncover grapeshot and a clan chief’s shoe buckle at Culloden

Recent investigations by National Trust for Scotland (NTS) archaeologists at Culloden battlefield have uncovered a wide range of artefacts, including what is believed to be Donald Cameron of Lochiel’s shoe buckle.

The fierceness of the fighting at Culloden is brought to life by a large number of musket balls and grapeshot unearthed in a small 60 square metre area close to where the government frontline stood. These findings were made during test pit excavation and metal detecting in late 2023 and processed this year.

The NTS archaeology team found two items that caught their interest. They discovered a single piece of heavy lead grapeshot and a broken copper alloy buckle lying close together. Derek Alexander, the Head of Archaeology, explained that the grapeshot had hit something with great force, causing one side of the lead ball to flatten completely.

The ball was estimated to be around 2-3cm in diameter and weighed about four times more than a standard musket ball at 102g. The flattened side of the ball had a striped impression, with part of the surface gouged and rolled back, along with an angular cut on one of its edges. This suggests that the ball hit something angular with enough force to flatten the ball but also at an angle to cause the gouge across it.

In the same hole, a flat copper alloy object was discovered. It seems to be a fragment of a rectangular framed buckle that was used for a 26mm wide strap. The buckle is adorned with cast beaded dots, plain lines, and a central twisted-rope pattern on the outside. Its shape is similar to the flat, slightly-curved shoe buckles depicted in contemporary illustrations.

Derek Alexander said, “The juxtaposition of both these artefacts, recovered from the same hole and within 20–30m of the British Army front line, is intriguing and the obvious conclusion would be that the grapeshot hit the shoe buckle and broke off one end. This is of particular significance as one of the most recounted stories of the Jacobite charge at Culloden is the wounding of Donald Cameron of Lochiel, known as ‘The Gentle Lochiel’. The late Christopher Duffy, a leading authority on the Battle of Culloden, tells how Lochiel ‘advancing at the head of his regiment (the Camerons), was so near Barrell’s (Government Regiment) that he fired his pistol, and was drawing his sword when he fell, wounded with grapeshot in both ankles”.

“This description shows us that Lochiel was hit in the ankles charging forward and if he had been wearing shoes with buckles, it is possible that these would have been hit and partly absorbed the impact. We can’t prove that this is what happened but both objects combine to tell the story of the terrible events that took place on that day.”

Commenting on the discovery, Donald Cameron of Lochiel, the current (28th) chief, stated: “This fascinating archaeological discovery adds to the legends surrounding one of my most famous ancestors, the Gentle Lochiel, and certainly tallies with the fact that he was injured by grapeshot in that particular location at Culloden. We will, of course, never know the full picture, but it’s intriguing that the battlefield is still producing such interesting artefacts even today.”

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46. The battle took place on 16 April 1746, on Drumossie Moor near Inverness, and resulted in a decisive victory for the Duke of Cumberland’s government forces over the Jacobite army loyal to Charles Edward Stuart, also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie
Neil Ritchie is the founder and editor of ScottishHistory.org and is also the editor of other online publications covering military history, defence and security. Neil has a keen interest in the military history of Scotland and in particular the military history of the Jacobite risings.

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