The Book of Deer Project has been carrying out on-going archaeological work since 2008 to locate the early medieval Monastery of Deer. Details below.
Thanks go to all who have participated within the Project, to our current Archaeologist Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology Ltd. and to our past associates, to our volunteers and in particular to Derek Jennings who has made a huge contribution towards this.
10 – 2017 – On the advice of archaeologist Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology Ltd., it was decided to undertake the dig this year in the grounds of Deer Abbey. The ruins of Deer Abbey itself are fenced off from a wider walled area referred to as the Abbey Orchard and gardens. Before the dig, Rose Geophysical Consultants LLP were commissioned to survey the grounds of Deer Abbey and the wider area and also an area outwith the walled area to the east. Their report highlighted areas of special interest and it was decided to investigate these.
The dig itself was carried out in June/ July and 4 trenches were dug. Two turned out to be less interesting, one with sandy loan on the stone natural subsoil and the other containing a deep dump of medieval to modern pottery, tile, slate, building stone and animal and human bone. The two remaining were very interesting. One contained a stone-lined hearth with copious amount of charcoal overlying. On the north edge of the trench part of a shallow semi-circular ditch with numerous stakeholes was excavated. The charcoal was carbon dated to 1147 -1260AD. The other trench contained part of a circular post-hole structure overlain by a spread of stone. Pottery from above the stones has been dated to 1276 to 1395AD. Both these finds are around our monastic period.
School children attended the dig as did the Aberdeen Young Archaeologists Club. A public open day was held on the Saturday and well attended.
2016 – The two digs this year were a joint venture between Bruce Mann of Aberdeenshire Archaeological Service, Cameron Archaeology Ltd. and the Book of Deer Project and Aberdeenshire Archaeological Service have generously agreed to pay for these. The first is the further exploration of the T-shaped building within the ground of Aden Park and the building adjacent. It is thought that this is the lost Tower House of the Keith’s. Two coins dating to the 17th century Charles I and Charles II were found along with broken glass probably from a leaded window, burnt timbers and a doorstep. In the other building a fire pit was discovered within an extensive foundation. Again children from local primary schools and Mintlaw Academy took part. They were also shown some finds from Aberdeenshire Council’s Archives and enjoyed a talk on the Book of Deer.
The second dig again funded by Aberdeenshire Council was located at various places within Old Deer Village, St Drostan’s Churchyard and the Old Deer Churchyard. Scheduled Monument Consent had been applied for but unfortunately was not granted prior to the excavation. 16 trenches were excavated. Trenches in the village revealed the remains of cottages in Abbey Street and a cobbled pathway. Excavations in the Old Deer church – one had to be abandoned when human remains were discovered. Anomalies from the previous geophysical report revealed post medieval deposits of mortar, plaster and stone. The conclusion is that further research is needed at a deeper level. Old Deer Parish Church minister Rev Sheila Kirk kindly allowed the Book of Deer Project to hold an exhibition within the church itself and the public were invited to come along to this and to the dig sites. Thanks go to Rev Sheila Kirk and the Church session for their help with this.
2015 – On behalf of the Project Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology Ltd. commissioned Rose Geophysical Consultants LLP to conduct a survey within the graveyard of the Old Deer Parish Church. A rectilinear anomaly was found suggestive of possible structural remains.
Professor Richard Fawcett OBE ,PhD, FRSE,FSA, FSA Scot was also commissioned to carry out an analysis of the architectural evidence on the Medieval Church of Old Deer. So much reconstruction had taken place that it was difficult to say whether the features were in our period timeframe or not but the possibility was there.
Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology Ltd. undertook two digs in the area this year. The first was at the site in Aden Park which had formerly been referred to as the Old Episcopalian Meeting Place. An exciting discovery of a T-shaped foundation was made along with another foundation of a building nearby. This is very exciting and needs further investigation. Again local school children assisted with the dig.
The second dig was following up the geophys from earlier in the year at the east and north of Old Deer Parish Church. No children were involved in this dig. The public were invited to come and see what was happening in their churchyard. The conclusion was that deeper excavations than were possible at this time should be undertaken.
7 – 2014 – Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology Ltd. led the dig this year over 3 sites south of the Old Deer Church, beside the Old Deer churchyard and on the way to Stuartfield. Again local school children came along and helped with the excavations. They were also shown archaeological artefacts from Aberdeenshire Museum Services Archives.
6 – 2013 – Hilary and Charlie Murray of Murray Archaeological Services Ltd. were asked to assess the nature of a series of circular enclosures in woodland within Aden Park. The conclusion was that these were clay and stone foundations of 5 huts circles which could be anything from Iron Age to late Bronze Age dwelling houses. Again local school children helped with the excavations.
5 -2012 – Hilary and Charlie Murray of Murray Archaeological Services Ltd. undertook more digs within the village of Old Deer – the main site was outside St Drostan’s Episcopal Church and a well-worn stone pend was found lying horizontal to the church. Excavations were also carried out in the gardens of residents. A field walk was also organised for children from the local primary schools – all being successful in finding pottery, flint, glass etc. but not medieval.
The Book of Deer and the archaeological dig was featured in the series The Great British Story on BBC2 – presented by Michael Wood and the series was shown from April onwards.
4 – 2011 – Hilary and Charlie Murray of Murray Archaeological Services Ltd. undertook digs of various sites within Old Deer Village and at Old Deer Parish Church. The dig in the village was behind the Kemp Hall which revealed a midden with many finds – none unfortunately early enough for our Monastery. Local school children were again involved in the dig. The dig in the churchyard revealed structural details of the ruin but a grave caused the trench to be closed before the geophysical anomalies could be identified.
3 – 2010 – GUARD undertook a ground penetrating radar survey of the graveyard of Old Deer Parish Church with particular focus on the area of the mound that the Mediaeval Church is built on. Children from some of the local schools were shown around the old church and graveyard and shown interesting features such as carvings and coats of arms. They also had role play as monks in the local hall and were shown different archaeological artefacts.
2 – 2009 – GUARD undertook an archaeological dig. Various trenches were dug within the river bend of the South Ugie Water within Aden Park and behind the Old Deer Parish Church boundary and in Old Deer itself within the vicinity of Grian’s Well. An ash pit and a post hole along with a quantity of carbon were discovered – the carbon dated to 4900 – 4700 BC. Charcoal was also found in another trench dating to 50BC to 140 AD. Too early for the monastery.
1 – 2008 – Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) were commissioned by The Book of Deer Project to conduct an archaeological desk-based assessment and field evaluation of the possible site of the early medieval monastery of Deer in Aberdeenshire.