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Archaeology of the Glen


For many Glencoe will always be associated with the massacre of 13th February 1692, but the area’s history stretches back long before the clan name of MacDonald became associated with the area. Indeed the MacDougalls were here until the 1320's when they were evicted by order of King Robert The Bruce, in favour of Clan MacDonald who had supported him in his quest for the Scottish Crown.

While no upstanding evidence survives of the very first settlers in the Glen, the shores of Loch Leven would have provided resources a-plenty for hunter-gatherers some 6-8,000 years ago.  Around 4-6,000 years ago a more settled existence of farming would have been seen along the shores and in the glens, which continued into historic times.  More recent land-uses have either destroyed or covered over the remains associated with these prehistoric and early historic peoples of Glencoe.  But there is no reason to suppose that archaeological material is not awaiting discovery in the area. Indeed there are one or two interesting sites in the glen which may even date back to the Bronze Age (4,000 years ago). On the north side of Loch Leven, workers digging in the Ballachulish Moss in 1880 found a large carved wooden female figure, encased in a wickerwork shrine, which had been set there over 3,000 years ago (The Ballachulish Goddess).  Now in the National Museums of Scotland, this most unusual find provides a glimpse of Iron Age ritual and religious beliefs.

The last millennium of archaeology on Trust land in the Glen is buried amongst the old farms – Achtriochtan, Stroan, Achnacon and Inverigan – and these names are recorded on old maps of the area dating to the 16th – 18th centuries.  The scant remains of the houses in the Glen, along with the evidence of rig cultivation and other cultivation plots presumably belong to the 18th century and earlier (including the time of the massacre of 1692).  There are also more ephemeral sites, such as the shieling structures, mounds and platforms up Gleann Leac na Muidhe. Glencoe does however features on maps produced by Timothy Pont (1590) and General Roy (1750's). It is worth remembering that the population of Glencoe numbered approximately 600 Clansfolk along with hundreds of Sheep, Cattle, Horses and Goats.

It is to this period that following quote from Pennant is most useful:

“In GlenCo are six farms (presumably Achtriochtan, Achnacon, Stroan, Inverigan, Carnoch and Invercoe (now the village of Glencoe), forming a rent of £241 per annum: the only crops are oats, bear and potatoes.  The increase of oats is three bolls and a half from one: of bear four or five.  But the inhabitants cannot subsist upon their harvest: about three hundred pounds worth of meal is annually imported.  They sell about seven hundred pounds worth of black cattle; but keep only sheep and goats for the use of private families: neither butter or cheese is made for sale. The male servants are paid in kind and commonly married".

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