Aberdeen YAC and the Lost Monastery of Deer
In June 2017, Aberdeen YAC were invited to dig near Mintlaw, Aberdeenshire to try and discover the original site of the Deer Abbey. It is believed to have been in existence between 7th-13th centuries. The aim was to find the original Abbey where the Book of Deer was written.
The Book of Deer
The Book of Deer is a 10th century illuminated manuscript written in Latin by monks from the Abbey. It is important as it contains the earliest known handwritten Gaelic from Scotland in the margins of the book, giving a fascinating insight into monastic life at the time. The Book of Deer is now in the collections of the University of Cambridge, gifted to them from the collections of George I following his death. It is unclear when or how the book left Scotland.
Digging for Deer!
The site for the dig was identified following ten years of research by the Book of Deer Project. Aberdeen YAC members and leaders went along for a day early in the ten-day dig, and we were asked to continue excavations in Trench 1. We mainly found 19th-century pottery, iron nails and some charcoal.
It was an exciting day with a film crew making a programme for BBC Alba and the Police also turned up when human bones were found in Trench 2. Thankfully, the bones were sufficiently archaeological that a full-scale Police investigation did not need to be launched!
The dig did uncover possible features that may relate to the monastery – a hearth was found with associated charcoal and pottery fragments. Most exciting for us was the discovery of what could be the remains of a circular building in the trench we were digging, although much deeper than we were. This building included a possible stone-built entrance and holes for wooden posts.
Since the dig, carbon dating on pottery and charcoal from the site dates to the early medieval period which fits with the date of the monastery.
Aberdeen YAC did feature in the BBC Alba programme, Air Toir Manachainn Dheir/The Lost Monastery of Deer, which first aired on 10th January 2018 (18 minutes in!) and it can be seen until 9 February 2018 on the BBC i-Player.
All our YAC members who were there made it onto film and Jonny was interviewed! One of our leaders, Alice, was there for the whole dig and features throughout the programme.
We are looking forward to the possibility of another dig this summer to find conclusive proof that this was the site of the original Deer Abbey.
Blog by Claire Smith, Aberdeen YAC leader