300-Year-Old Coins Found Under Fireplace May Be Connected to the Glencoe Massacre

Archaeologists unearthed a trove of 36 coins at a site linked to Alasdair “Maclain” MacDonald, the clan chief who died in the 1692 attack

The trove of coins
The 36 coins date to between the late 1500s and the 1680s. Gareth Beale

In 1692, some 120 government soldiers brutally attacked MacDonald clan, killing dozens of people and forcing many more to flee from their homes in western Scotland. Now known as the Glencoe Massacre, the slaughter would go down as one of the most infamous events in Scottish history, inspiring songs, poetry and even the iconic “Red Wedding” scene in “Game of Thrones.”

Now, a collection of rare 17th-century coins that may be linked to the massacre has been discovered at Glencoe, archaeologists at the University of Glasgow announced in a statement this week.

Lucy Ankers, an archaeology student at the university, found the 36 coins in a pot hidden underneath a stone fireplace. They date to between the late 1500s and the 1680s, leading researchers to hypothesize “that they were most likely deposited under the fireplace either just before or during the 1692 Glencoe Massacre for safekeeping,” per the statement. “Whoever buried the coins did not return for them, which could indicate that they were among the victims of the massacre.”

The archaeologists say the coins could be connected to Alasdair “Maclain” MacDonald of Glencoe, who served as chief of the MacDonald clan between 1646 and 1692. The coins were found in Maclain’s “summerhouse,” a hunting lodge and feasting hall used by the chiefs. MacIain was known to have traveled Europe in his youth, and some of the coins may be personal souvenirs from his early life, according to the researchers.

“Were these coins witnesses to this dramatic story?” says archaeologist Michael Given, a co-director of the project, in the statement. “It’s a real privilege to hold in our hands these objects that were so much [a] part of people’s lives.”

Ankers was astounded by her luck. “As a first experience of a dig, Glencoe was amazing,” she says in the statement. “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 deadly massacre took place following a missed deadline: Maclain was expected to sign an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary, by January 1, 1692. Due to a travel mishap, he missed the deadline by just a few days, per the Glencoe Folk Museum. On the night of February 13, soldiers launched their deadly attack. Maclain and his wife were among the victims.

Centuries later, archaeologists are still studying the area to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the massacre. The recent excavations at Maclain’s summerhouse took place in August.

In addition to learning more about the attack, archaeologists are also gaining new insights into the lives of the MacDonald clan. “The discovery of this coin hoard within the structure adds an exciting dimension to this story,” says archaeologist Edward Stewart, the excavations director of the project, in the statement.

At the site, researchers also found a number of other everyday objects, “such as spindle whorls for making thread, a pitch fork and a dress pin,” he adds. These items “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.”

Glencoe is located in the highlands of western Scotland. While it’s still known for the brutal massacre that took place there, it’s also revered for its natural beauty, waterfalls, lush valley and hiking trails.

“This is such an exciting moment for local heritage,” says Catriona Davidson, a curator at the Glencoe Folk Museum, in the statement. “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.”

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