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An Outdoors Family history outdoors

Getting dirty with history on an NTS archaeology dig

At the weekend we headed to Dunkeld to do something a bit different for us; we went on an archaeology dig on the battle site dated 1689 when the first Jacobite rebellion lost to the red coat soldiers.

The event was organised by the National Trust for Scotland who had already set out the grid for the test pits and provided all the equipment we needed: trowels, spades and most importantly kneeling mats for our knees!

We then got to spend around 3 hours excavating the pit, collecting anything we thought was interesting. For any Outlander fans, we didn’t find Jamie’s musket balls. No no… that’s the wrong rebellion isn’t it… but we did find a good number of objects including our favourite, 4 different clay pipes. The archaeologists on site dated them to about 200 years ago. There was also pottery from the same era and quite a bit of charcoal pieces which led us to the idea that we had stumbled upon the aftermath of a party. Imagine 200 years ago, a group of people sat around a fire, smoked some tobacco and shared some food, leaving all the evidence behind for us to discover 200 years later.

An Outdoors Family history outdoors

Our son had a wilder imagination, not worrying so much about the date of the objects we found and reckoning that they were from the medics treating the wounded soldiers by getting them to smoke. Incidentally smoking using clay pipes was thought to be a cure for the Plague, so there is a past ‘medical’ use for smoking.

As well as the excavation we did, we got to nose around all the other finds from the total of around 10 test pits and got to see a good range of pottery and so on that had been found. The objects that were getting the archaeologists most excited were a few pieces of green glaze pottery which they dated at about 600 years old.

An Outdoors Family history outdoors

They had also brought along a range of replica weapons form the time of the first Jacobite rebellion so we got to test out our highland charge, decide if we preferred the two handed broadsword or the musket as our weapon of choice and imagine just how much of a difference it would have made between the first Jacobite rebellion, when the redcoats took around 30-50 seconds to reload compared to them taking 10-15 seconds per reload at Culloden. We were also shown some replica grenades which were round balls about the size of your fist. They were used at the Battle of Killiekrankie where the red coat threw them at the Jacobite army who were gathered uphill of them…… the grenades then rolled down the hill back to the red coats and is the first recorded incident of friendly fire.

An Outdoors Family history outdoors

The NTS organises around 6 to 12 of these digs at sites around Scotland each year. We chanced upon this one when we had to change plans a couple of weeks ago because we forgot a key bit of kit for our baby, stopping us from going for a mountain walk and instead heading to Killiekrankie where we happened to see a poster. We would highly recommend getting involved in an archaeology dig near you as it was an extremely interesting way to fully immerse ourselves in history as a family. Playing in mud is pretty much what it is, so kids are in their element, and the sense of digging through time gives a powerful link to the past which spurred us to ask more questions and find out more than we would have in any visitor centre.


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