Hunt for long lost Monastery of Deer makes some discoveries

ARCHAEOLOGISTS searching for the long lost Monastery of Deer remained upbeat yesterday, despite a five-day dig in woodland at Old Deer turning up no conclusive evidence that a site behind Old Deer Parish Church was once home to the medieval monastery.

The team said they were not ruling anything out after the discovery of several features which could date back to the right period.

The woodland of Aden Country Park was transformed last week as the archaeological team from Glasgow University moved in.

Aided by volunteers from the local Book of Deer Project, the team meticulously searched eleven trenches at the site for the Monastery of Deer, home of the much-celebrated Book of Deer, a tenth century illuminated gospel manuscript from North East Scotland.

The book, which is now on display at Cambridge University, is best known for six Gaelic entries inserted into the margins, probably in the 12th Century, which form the earliest surviving evidence of Scots Gaelic.

The book's association with Old Deer is drawn from these notes, one of which describes the founding of a monastery by St Columba and St Drostan at Deer.

No trace of this monastery has ever been found but it has long been believed that the it was situated within the bend in the River Ugie, to the rear of the present Old Deer Parish Church and under the remains of a pre-Reformation Church.

Last year the Book of Deer Project commissioned Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) to conduct a desk based assessment of the area.

After examining early maps and aerial photographs, archaeologists decided that there was enough evidence to begin examining a number of trenches at the site.

Speaking to the Buchanie yesterday (Monday) Olivia Lelong, field manager with the GUARD team, said: "We didn't draw a complete blank. We found a few things that could be from the monastery, most notably a fire pit and a very slight stone wall just outside the present churchyard wall.

"These features could have been of any date but could relate to the monastery, particularly the wall which was found just outside and on the same alignment as the church."

Ms Lelong added that any confirmation of the finds would depend on radio carbon dating of charcoal found in the stake holes of the wall and the fire pit.

Book of Deer Project manager Andrew Kellock said: "There was nothing thrilling but at the end of the day we will be able to add quite a bit to local historical knowledge.

"The most significant thing was the charcoal that was found but at this stage we are waiting for the interpretive results and assessment to see where we go from here.

"There has been an increase in interest from locals and we would probably want to do some consultation work before continuing."