Long-lost Scottish monastery is FOUND after 1,000 years: Archaeologists discover site in Aberdeenshire where the first Scots Gaelic was written
Scottish Gaelic may be in danger of extinction, but experts have finally found the written language’s spiritual home.
The Deer Abbey in northeastern Scotland was built as a place of worship for Cistercian monks nearly 1,000 years ago.
It is in this building that the earliest known examples of Scottish Gaelic are written, in the margins of the 10th-century Book of the Deer, a pocket Bible.
Although the book still exists, the monastery was lost – but archaeologists claim to have finally found the remains of the building.
New excavations have revealed that it lies just 262 feet (80 metres) from the ruins of the priory (founded in 1219), near the village of Mintlaw in Aberdeenshire.
The oldest written Scottish Gaelic in the world is thought to have been produced at Deer Abbey in the late 11th and early 12th centuries. These entries, or additions, were placed in the margins of the Book of the Deer, a pocket Bible, originally written between 850 and 1000 AD. The additions are visible in this book image, in the frame surrounding the illustration
Scottish Gaelic may be in danger of extinction, but experts may have finally found the written language’s spiritual home thanks to fossils (pictured)
Deer Abbey was a place of worship located in Buchan, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
Founded by William Comyn, Earl of Buchan, it was home to a community of Cistercian monks for centuries.
The oldest written Scottish Gaelic in the world is thought to have been produced at the abbey in the late 11th and early 12th centuries.
These texts (the Gaelic land grants) are placed in the margins of the Book of the Deer, a pocket Bible, originally written between 850-1000 AD.
The excavation was co-led by Alice Gaspars, a doctoral researcher from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton.
Academics have long speculated that handwritten entries or additions were added while the book was in the monastery.
“As the home of the oldest surviving Scottish Gaelic, the Book of the Deer is a vital manuscript of Scottish history,” Gaspars said.
“While it is not known where the book itself was written, it is believed that the Gaelic in its margins was added at the previously lost Deer Abbey.”
“These additions include reference to the foundation of the abbey, along with other land grants in north-east Scotland.
“We now believe that during our excavations in 2022, we found the lost monastery where these objects were written.”
The origin of the Book of the Deer is uncertain, but it is believed to have been originally written between 850 and 1000 AD.
Meanwhile, historical additions – the oldest written Scottish Gaelic in the world – were added to the margins of the book by monks at the abbey in the late 11th and early 12th centuries.
The priory was located 262 feet (80 m) from the priory (founded 1219), near the village of Mintlaw in Aberdeenshire. Deir el-Ghizlan is still visible as ruins, but Deir el-Ghizlan is missing
Carbon-dated materials found by the team associated with postholes they discovered during excavations near the monastery, which match the same time period as the additions in the book
The 2022 excavations coincided with the return of book deer to north-east Scotland for the first time in 1,000 years.
Investigations, supported by the Deer Book Project, have been ongoing since 2009 to encourage renewed interest and research into the historic book
As for Deir el-Ghizlan, the team does not know exactly when it was built, but it likely dates back to before the neighboring Deir el-Ghizlan monastery (built in 1219).
Ms Gaspars told MailOnline: ‘It is safe to assume that the occupation of the abbey predates this, and coincides with the additions.’
“We also cannot confirm when or why the monastery was lost.
“We suspect that this happened before the monastery was occupied, but it is not possible to say more than that at this stage.”
Archaeologists had four excavation periods – late April, mid-May, June, and August to mid-September last year.
The team found holes in the ground, which were previously used to stabilize a wood or stone surface.
Carbon dating methods revealed that these post holes matched the same time period as the Gaelic marks in the Book of the Deer.
The team also recovered medieval pottery, shards of glass, a pen and paintings of Hnevatafel – a chess-like game that was popular until the Middle Ages.
These and other local artifacts found at the site indicate the presence of a monastery complex there, according to the team.
Experts recovered medieval pottery, glass shards, a pen and paintings of Hanaftafel – a chess-like game that was popular until the Middle Ages (pictured)
Today, the Abbey Ruins (pictured) are a property managed by Historic Scotland and are open to tourists. It is about 80 meters from the site of the former monastery
Excavations in 2022 coincided with the return of book deer to north-east Scotland for the first time in 1,000 years.
It was displayed at the Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums on loan for three months from the Cambridge University Library, where it is now located again.
The researchers plan to publish their findings in an academic journal in the coming months, but their work will be featured in a new BBC ALBA documentary on Monday evening at 9pm.
They will also present their findings in a lecture to colleagues of the Scottish Archaeological Society on Thursday.
How Scottish Gaelic became a ‘dead language’
Number of people aged 3-17 in the Western Isles who are able to speak Scottish Gaelic (1981-2011)
- 1981 – 5329
- 1991 – 3166
- 2001 – 2,395
- 2011 – 1,989
Proportion of people in the Western Isles who are able to speak Scottish Gaelic (1981-2021)
- 1981 – 80 percent
- 1991 – 69 percent
- 2001 – 61 percent
- 2011 – 52 percent
- 2021 (expected) – 45 percent
Source: The Gaelic Crisis in Vernacular Society: A Comprehensive Sociolinguistic Survey of Scottish Gaelic (Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, Aberdeen University Press)
(Tags for translation) Daily Mail