University of Glasgow archaeology student Lucy Ankers discovered a hoard of coins buried in a small pot that had been placed beneath the fireplace of the summerhouse of Alasdair Ruadh MacIain MacDonald, chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe who was killed by Scottish government troops in the Massacre of Glencoe.
The 36 coins are presumed to have been stashed under the hearth stone slab for safekeeping at the site in Gleann Leac na Muidhe which was used as a summerhouse and traditionally associated with Alasdair Ruadh MacIain, chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe from 1646-1692.
In the early hours of 13 February 1692, soldiers of the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot who had been staying with the Macdonalds for two weeks fell upon their hosts, killing 38 men and boys. The Jacobite Macdonalds of Glencoe had been singled out for punishment by elements of the Scottish government after MacIain was late in swearing an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary, and was part of a wider campaign by the Scottish government against the Jacobite clans of the western highlands and islands.
During an archaeological dig in August 2023, Lucy Ankers discovered a collection of coins in the grand fireplace of the Glencoe house. The coins, which vary in date, were found in a pot with a small rounded pebble serving as a lid, and hidden beneath a hearth stone stab.
Lucy Ankers said: “As a first experience of a dig, Glencoe was amazing. The two weeks I spent digging solidified that I want to pursue a career within archaeology. 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.”
Dr Michael Given, a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology and 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 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.”
Edward Stewart, an Archaeology PhD student and the Excavations Director of the University of Glasgow’s archaeological project in 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. However, 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 as well as these grand tales of chiefs and their retinue.”
Archaeologists have determined that none of the coins were minted after the 1680s, leading them to suggest that they were likely deposited under the fireplace either just before or during the 1692 Glencoe Massacre for safekeeping. It is believed that whoever buried the coins did not return for them, indicating that they may have been victims of the massacre.
Shortly after the arrival of the government troops in the glen, MacIain, concerned that the soldiers were there to disarm his clan, had the clan weapons sent to his summerhouse in Gleann Leac na Muidhe for safekeeping so it’s possible the coins were hidden at this time too.