Signficant archaeological find in Buchan

A map of the Old Deer site
A map of the Old Deer site

A group of archaeologists and volunteers in Aberdeenshire have made a significant find that impacts not only local history, but also the history of Scotland and the Scottish Gaelic language.

In a field near Old Deer, a team of archaeologists, students and volunteers spent nine days digging and sifting through soil to see if they could find an ancient Pictish monastery that disappeared over a thousand years ago.

This monastery was the birthplace of one of The Book of Deer, a gospel book written in Latin by the Aberdeenshire monks around the tenth century.

Not only is this the first written evidence of Scottish Gaelic that exists, but it provides a unique insight into the early church, culture and society of this period, making the Book of Deer a rare and precious document.

The book itself has been housed in Cambridge University Library for the last 300 years.

Over the last decade, the Book of Deer Project commissioned and paid for archaeological digs, which for the last four years have been carried out by Cameron Archaeology Ltd, led by Ali Cameron.

This dig was the tenth dig and the first to uncover finds that could date to the monastic period. Charcoal found in one of the trenches has been dated by radiocarbon dating to the years 1147-1260.

Previous digs have unearthed much older or much newer finds, but nothing as close as this to the date of the monastery where the Book of Deer was written.

Bruce Mann, archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council, said: “These latest discoveries may at last hint that the mystery has finally been solved. More work obviously has to happen, but regardless of what this finally turns out to be, it is a significant find for not only Old Deer, but Aberdeenshire and beyond too.”

The Book of Deer Project is already raising funds to commission a further dig in the same area in June to see if they can find conclusive evidence of the site of the lost monastery of Deer.

Produced by Midas Media for BBC ALBA, a documentary on the dig “Air Tòir Manachainn Dhèir (The Lost Monastery of Deer)” will screen on BBC ALBA on Wednesday, January 10 at 9pm.