Archaeologists Dig for Their Lives

March 2013

Press Release

The Bailies of Bennachie and the University of Aberdeen are joining forces again to begin a new season of exploration into the lives of the ‘Colonists’. The Bennachie Colonists were a group of small tenant farmers made homeless by the ‘improvements’ of the early 19th century. They came from many regions of Scotland and for over fifty years made homes for themselves on the rocky slopes of Bennachie. Most were finally forced from the land when the hill was given over to the sporting activities of the local lairds.Members of the community helped in all of last year’s archaeological adventures, including the processing of the finds from the various excavations and sampling strategies. With support from a grant from the ‘Arts and Humanities Research Council’ the University have seconded Aoife Gould to help with this year’s work. Aoife works for York Archaeological Trust and is an experienced field archaeologist. Said Aoife, “I am really looking forward to being involved in such a vibrant and interesting project. The Colony at Bennachie is an incredibly rich resource for gaining an insight into the lives of people in the 19th Century in the Northeast who did not necessarily conform to the ideals of the day. Their story has been appropriated many times over the last Century or so, with the colonists painted as both sinners and saints, so to try to get to the truth of their lives is a very exciting challenge. What I am even more excited about is the opportunity to work amongst such keen local communities, from the Bailies of Bennachie, to local school children, to local people simply interested in the past of their own area. I believe the rest of this year with the Bennachie Landscapes Project, will prove to be a very important time in the study of this rich area, both for the archaeologists and the local people who will make the work possible.”
The Bailies and Aberdeen University hope that members of the community will once again help in this exciting and nationally-important research. The first event will be to explore new areas of the Colony not looked at in last year’s explorations. This will involve taking soil from a large number of sampling holes and sieving it for artefacts. The work is simple to do, requires no previous experience and is fun. Anybody aged 5 years upwards can take part, though under 16s will need to be accompanied by a responsible adult. Ideally, anyone interested can contact Aoife through either of the emails below or simply turn up on the day. The fun will start at 10am at the Bennachie Centre on the 6th and 7th of April and is planned to go on till about 4pm. Bring packed lunches, stout footwear and (just in case) wet weather clothing. 
This event is part of the ongoing Bennachie Landscapes initiative, looking into the social and ecological development of Bennachie and the Garioch. Last year enough artefactual evidence was found at the Colony to start to give real insights into the daily lives of the Colonists and to see how their lifestyles differed from those living in the surrounding farmland. The emerging picture is now seen to be far more complicated than hitherto imagined and as reported in the documents of the time. Those documents frequently give the viewpoints of those who were antagonistic to the Colonists.

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