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Delving into Old Deer’s medieval past

old deer churchyardThe Book of Deer Project has for several years been carrying out archaeological work to help understand the early development of the village of Old Deer in Aberdeenshire.

The project is named after one of Scotland’s most important manuscripts, and certainly its oldest.

The Book of Deer is a small Gospel Book now housed in Cambridge University Library. Before circa 1100 AD it was apparently in the possession of an early Pictish monastery at Old Deer, in the centre of the Buchan area, where it is thought to have been made. This monastery has otherwise left no trace of its existence.

In September, the latest phase of the project, supported by archaeologists and local volunteers, will attempt to locate this lost early medieval Monastery of Deer.

Derek Jennings, of the Book of Deer Project, said: “The project focuses on the historic connections between the Book of Deer and the area around Old Deer.

“The activities of the project are designed to ensure the community does not lose sight of its cultural roots. We should be proud of this Scottish icon and celebrate one of the great gems of our history.”

In July, Rose Geophysical Consultants carried out a ground-penetrating radar survey at Old Deer Church and revealed some intriguing features. Of particular interest is ‘Anomaly 8’, as it is currently being referred to.  

This appears to be the remains of a building underlying the east end of the standing church building. It is about 10m long, at least 7m wide and may have several ‘rooms’.

Cameron Archaeology Ltd, in conjunction with the Book of Deer Project, applied for Scheduled Monument Consent to excavate a couple of trenches to find out a bit more about this structure and if possible, date it.  

Whether this is an earlier church or not, it is fascinating that structures seem to survive just half a metre below the surface in this relatively busy graveyard.

Aberdeenshire Council archaeologist, Bruce Mann, said: “At this stage the survey results are almost too good to be true, but if this really is an earlier church then it may be key in understanding the location of the lost monastery.”

The project will also be looking at two stone foundations in Aden Country Park, one of which is recorded as a possible Episcopal Meeting House.

The team will be recording and doing some exploratory excavation of the Aden Country Park site from September 2-4, and digging trenches in Old Deer churchyard from September 5-9.

Visitors and volunteers are welcome and the Aden sites will be signposted from the country park’s café. The monastery dig can be accessed through Old Deer churchyard.

The project is funded by Book of Deer Project and Aberdeenshire Council.

For more information about the Book of Deer Project please visit: www.bookofdeer.co.uk