Website technical difficulties
See all stories
19 Sept 2018

Neil Oliver’s new discoveries at Glencoe


Neil INTRO: The National Trust for Scotland cares for some of Scotland’s most treasured landscapes and often those places contain significant archaeological sites. I recently visited one such site in Glencoe with Derek Alexander, the Trust’s Head of Archaeology, and Natasha Ferguson, Lead Inventory Officer for Archaeology, to hear about the Achtriochtan settlement and recent discoveries that may be linked to the time of the Glencoe Massacre.
Derek: We were coming out here to have a look at these 19th-century buildings and enclosures that you can just see where the trees are. And when we were walking past we had a quick look up and thought, having worked at Ben Lawers where we’d seen similar buildings, this looks like a turf building. So if you come up here I’ll show you … FADES
Derek: This is one gable end here. We’ve got a big stone in the wall, this is the wall line, and then you’re right in the entrance there.
Neil: Right, oh yes, where it’s lower down.
Derek: Yes.
Neil: It’s a big structure.
Derek: It is quite. So what’s that, about 12 metres long by about 5 metres wide?
Neil: And so, did these come up from your excavation?
Derek: Yes, so when we were digging in here in April we found, we didn’t get a lot of stuff, but we found bits of glass, bits of pottery, but most of them I think are of the right period. They’re not 19th century they’re probably earlier, which is good. That’s encouraging.
Neil: So, it looks like broken crockery to me.
Natasha: Some of the best dating material that you can get are ceramics and coins, and that’s some of the things you got from this excavation so that’s really helpful in trying to provide a good chronology of the site. So the earliest thing that you have is the magnese mottled ware; you can see the mottling and that dates to the end of the 17th/early 18th century, so that’s really good, that’s exactly what we want.
Derek: That’s on the money for the date isn’t it? And it’s very fine that stuff, that’s what I noticed about it.
Neil: So that could even, well hypothetically, that could have been in use at the time of the massacre.
Natasha: And it’s a tankard as well so it’s something that would be used in a domestic setting, and actually it’s from Staffordshire as well, so it’s imported material …
Neil: So it’s not locally made?
Natasha: No no, so that really connects, people are buying and using and wanting this kind of material.
Neil: And it must’ve come up that road!
Natasha: Indeed.
Neil: Somehow or other.
Natasha: Yeah, and then we have some slipware which is brown and cream slipware, and that’s where you have a red ware, brown fabric that has a brown glaze and white stripes as a decoration, and that dates around about the 18th/early 19th century, so again we’ve got a really nice chronology between the mottled magnese and the …
Neil: Is it only decoration or does it do something that makes it a better pot or a better plate?
Natasha: Certainly if you’re glazing, if you’re going to the trouble of actually glazing ceramics, so you want to use them to hold liquid or water or some kind of food …
Neil: So more watertight?
Natasha: Exactly, yes. So it’s decorative but it’s also very practical. And the other thing that we got which is brilliant for dating is this coin, that you just found?
Derek: It was in the enclosure, rather than in the house or outside the house; it was in the little yard in front of house 2.
Neil: And it’s just an accidental loss?
Derek: Yes, there was nothing else around it.
Natasha: It’s a really nice coin to date because it’s a copper alloy turner or bodle which dates again to the late 17th/early 18th century.
Neil: But again, possibly in circulation in this area at the time of the massacre.
Natasha: Yes, absolutely.
Neil: It’s amazing. FADES
Neil OUTRO: Thanks to our members’ continued support, the Trust's team of archaeologists can carry on their vital work across Scotland. Please join today. Find out more at

September is Scottish Archaeology Month and to mark the occasion we asked our President, Neil Oliver, to travel to Glencoe to hear more about our latest archaeological discoveries there. He met Derek Alexander, the Trust’s Head of Archaeology, and Natasha Ferguson, Lead Inventory Officer for Project Reveal. The Trust has been excavating around the Achtriochtan settlement, not far from the Glencoe Visitor Centre, and has found the foundations of buildings and enclosures, as well as artefacts, that may well date to the time of the infamous massacre of Glencoe, which took place on 13 February 1692. The finds are now being registered and recorded as part of Project Reveal.

Explore Glencoe

Visit now