The notes in the Book of Deer are the first written examples of Scottish Gaelic and they hint at the location of the monastery where it was written

Search for Long-Lost Monastery Linked with the Medieval ‘Book of Deer’ May Be Over

(Read the article on one page)

The monastery where the significant Scottish text called the ‘Book of Deer’ was created disappeared from the pages of history about 1,000 years ago. After a decade of excavations looking for the site, archaeologists believe they are finally on the correct path.

According to The Scotsman , an excavation team working with the Book of Deer project have unearthed a hearth, charcoal, pottery, post holes, and a layer of stone near Old Deer in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. Carbon dating places the site to between 1147 and 1260, in the medieval monastic period and the stone and post holes suggest a circular building was once located at the site.

Archaeologist Alison Cameron of Cameron Archaeology, who led the dig, called the results of the carbon-dating “extremely exciting”, saying:

“A medieval date for this hand-made pottery suggests the building underneath the layers where the pottery had been found might also be medieval in date. The date for the charcoal is 1147 to 1260 and is extremely exciting because it is potentially the monastic period, so it is dating to the early medieval period when we know the monastery was in the area.”

A stone hearth was one of the archaeological features uncovered during excavations.

A stone hearth was one of the archaeological features uncovered during excavations. ( BBC ALBA )

BBC News reports the recent excavations were aimed at exploring a field near the ruins of Deer Abbey. Focus was placed on that location because a geophysical survey found underground anomalies there. Before the excavations in the field, archaeologists were looking for the monastery in a church graveyard. As Ms. Cameron said : “This is a site that we don’t know anything about. The possibility of locating one building and perhaps more nearby would be of national importance. The team are very excited about this.”

Bruce Mann, an archaeologist for Aberdeenshire Council, expressed his hope for the discovery of the monastery to The Scotsman. He said, “These latest discoveries may at last hint that the mystery has finally been solved. More work obviously has to happen, but regardless of what this finally turns out to be, it is a significant find for not only Old Deer, but Aberdeenshire and beyond too.”

Further clues to the monastery’s location were scribbled in the margins of the Book of Deer in Scots Gaelic. The writings suggest that the monastery was in eyesight of Deer Abbey – the building the monks moved to when they had to leave their home at the monastery. The National reports the monks left the monastery before or during the Reformation, when the building may have already been in ruins.

Deer Abbey in Scotland

Deer Abbey in Scotland. ( Public Domain )

The notes added to the margins of the Book of Deer are what set the text apart. As Ancient Origins previously reported , the Book of Deer:

“is said to be the only pre-Norman manuscript revealing tenth century northeastern Scottish culture's society and religious traditions, and is the earliest known Gaelic document in existence […]  the greatest intrigue for those drawn to this ancient text lies within the handwritten notations made in its margins and other blank areas, and not necessarily within the text itself. The notations, also referred to as 'notitiae', are written in the type of Gaelic typically spoken by the upper classes in the early twelfth century region of Buchan […]

Dr. Michelle Macleod, lecturer in Gaelic at Aberdeen University, explained some of the significance of the Book of Deer:

“There are some deviations in the language from the shared common Gaelic of Scotland and Ireland which had been used in earlier manuscripts. These deviations, of which there are several, are the first written indication that the languages are separating and would be an indication of what people were likely saying. The Book of Deer is a tiny book but it has left a huge legacy for us, not only in the north-east but for the whole of Scotland. We had to wait another 200-300 years after the Book of Deer to find any more evidence of written Scottish Gaelic.”

Folio 5r contains the text of the Gospel of Matthew from 1:18 through 1:21. Note the Chi Rho monogram in the upper left corner.

Folio 5r contains the text of the Gospel of Matthew from 1:18 through 1:21. Note the Chi Rho monogram in the upper left corner. The margins contain Gaelic text. ( Public Domain )

Register to become part of our active community, get updates, receive a monthly newsletter, and enjoy the benefits and rewards of our member point system OR just post your comment below as a Guest.

Our Mission

At Ancient Origins, we believe that one of the most important fields of knowledge we can pursue as human beings is our beginnings. And while some people may seem content with the story as it stands, our view is that there exists countless mysteries, scientific anomalies and surprising artifacts that have yet to be discovered and explained.

The goal of Ancient Origins is to highlight recent archaeological discoveries, peer-reviewed academic research and evidence, as well as offering alternative viewpoints and explanations of science, archaeology, mythology, religion and history around the globe.

We’re the only Pop Archaeology site combining scientific research with out-of-the-box perspectives.

By bringing together top experts and authors, this archaeology website explores lost civilizations, examines sacred writings, tours ancient places, investigates ancient discoveries and questions mysterious happenings. Our open community is dedicated to digging into the origins of our species on planet earth, and question wherever the discoveries might take us. We seek to retell the story of our beginnings. 

Ancient Image Galleries

View from the Castle Gate (Burgtor). (Public Domain)
Door surrounded by roots of Tetrameles nudiflora in the Khmer temple of Ta Phrom, Angkor temple complex, located today in Cambodia. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Cable car in the Xihai (West Sea) Grand Canyon (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Next article