Glencoe coin hoard discovered


01 December 2023
A coin hoard was discovered at a site in Glencoe, Scotland, during an archaeological dig conducted by the University of Glasgow in August 2023, it has now been revealed.

Hidden in a small pot, the hoard was hidden underneath a grand stone fireplace in a ‘summerhouse’ associated with Alasdair Ruadh ‘MacIain’ MacDonald of Glencoe, chief of the MacDonalds of Glencoe from 1646–92.

The 36 silver and bronze coins found in the pot, which had a rounded pebble for a lid, dated from the late 1500s through to the 1680s, including pieces from the reigns of Elizabeth I, James VI and I, Charles I, the Cromwellian Commonwealth, and Charles II. Interestingly, there were also coins from France and the Spanish Netherlands represented within the collection, as well as one coin which appears to have originated in the Papal States.

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Jesper Ericsson, Curator of Numismatics, The Hunterian, University of Glasgow, said:

‘The contents of the jar display a fascinating mix of coinage from different eras and countries, offering an exciting opportunity to investigate how this hoard was assembled and the circumstances behind it being hidden. I’m looking forward to working with the project team to uncover what these coins and other finds can tell us about life in Glen Coe in the late-17th century.’ As Alexander ‘MacIain’, chief of the MacDonalds, is known to have travelled to Rome and Paris in his youth, some of the coins may represent personal memento of his travels.

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Other finds from the structure included musket and fowling shot, a gun flint and a powder measure which support the suggestion that this was used as a base for hunting. The imposing nature of the structure can be seen both in the array of imported dining wares from England, Germany and the Netherlands and the remains of what had been an impressive fireplace and grand slab floor.

The site of MacIain’s house has now been fully excavated and post-excavation analysis of the finds and environmental samples is in progress. As none of the coins were minted after the 1680s, the archaeologists have suggested that they were most likely deposited under the fireplace either just before or during the 1692 Glencoe Massacre for safekeeping. Whoever buried the coins, did not return for them which could indicate that they were among the victims of the massacre.

The MacDonalds took part in the first Jacobite rising of 1689, this resulted in the clan being targeted in the 1692 Massacre of Glencoe. In late January 1692, two companies or approximately 120 men from the Earl of Argyll’s Regiment of Foot arrived in Glencoe from Invergarry. Their commander was Robert Campbell of Glenlyon. An estimated 38 members and associates of Clan MacDonald of Glencoe were killed on 13 February 1692, including Maclain and his wife.

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.’