Volunteers sought to ‘dig’ into the past of Bennachie

The archaeological past of one of Scotland's most famous hills will be the focus of a new series of events launching this weekend.

Archaeologists from the University of Aberdeen are leading a project to unearth the secrets of Bennachie.

They hope their work – which is funded by a grant of £20K from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) – will result in an exciting new heritage project for the hill and its surrounding landscape.

Budding archaeologists from the local community are being encouraged to get involved in the research by attending a host of events taking place on the hill over the coming months.

Dr Gordon Noble, Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen explained: “Bennachie is widely acknowledged as a historically and archaeologically significant location, but very little surveying or excavation work has actually taken place on the site – and this is what our project aims to change.

“Our intent is to get the local community involved in helping us discover more about this fascinating and important landmark that sits on their doorstep.

“We are running a series of events on Bennachie throughout May and June which aim to equip community members with the knowledge and skills they require to undertake their own work into the history and heritage of their local area.

“Activities will include archaeological digs on the hill, an oral history day with the chance hear and share stories about Bennachie, and an event hosted by the Royal Commission where locals will be offered the chance to learn methods for recording old buildings.

“Our particular focus across all of these events will be on discovering more about ‘the Colony of Bennachie’ – settlers who resided on the hill rent free from the 1830s onwards before landholding estates divided up the land in the 1860s, and they were forced to pay rent or move on.

“This project aims to learn more about the day to day lives of these people and how it compares to what is recorded in history about their existence on Bennachie.”

These activities in May and June are part of an ongoing Bennachie Landscapes Project that involves several partners including The Bailies of Bennachie, a voluntary charity concerned with the social and natural history of the hill, Aberdeenshire Council Ranger Service and Forestry Commission Scotland. The Bailies of Bennachie are employing landscape archaeologist Colin Shepherd as co-ordinator for the project.

Jackie Cumberbirch, Senior Bailie of Bennachie said: “Bennachie is a fantastic place and these events will hopefully inspire everyone in the area to find out more about the hill.”

Calum Murray, Communities,Recreation & Tourism Manager, Moray & Aberdeenshire Forest District, Forestry Commission Scotland said:  “It is great to see this exciting project really getting into its stride this year with lots of opportunities for everyone who enjoys Bennachie to get involved."

Details of the events taking place throughout May and June are as follows:

Saturday May 5 and Sunday May 6, 10am - 5pm

Members of the public are invited to join an archaeological dig focusing on the remains of houses where ‘the Colony of Bennachie’ resided. A follow-up workshop on Saturday June 2 will allow those involved to examine and learn more about any artefacts they uncovered. This dig will be based close to the Bennachie Centre and on each day of the dig, leaving the centre at 1pm, Fiona Banks, Aberdeenshire Council ranger will take anyone interested in seeing what is happening, up to the dig.

Thursday May 10 and Friday May 11, 10am - 5pm

The Royal Commission of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) will host two training days providing an insight into methods of recording on archaeological sites.

Saturday June 2, 4pm

Oyne Primary School who have been working on the Bennachie Landscapes Project will have an exhibition at their school showing the results of their archaeological and documentary research into the history of their parish which they have been undertaking in April and May. This exhibition is open to all and there is no need to book.

Thursday 7 June, 5.30 - 8pm

Keig Primary School have also been working on the Bennachie Landscapes project and have an exhibition at their school of their research into their parish during April and May.  This exhibition is open to all and there is no need to book.

Saturday June 9, 10am

Members of the local community interested in recording the oral history of the area will have the chance to attend a training day where tips on obtaining and recording anecdotes and stories will be offered. This will be followed by an event on Saturday June 23, 10am - 5pm, where people are invited to come along and share their stories of Bennachie. Members of the Bailies of Bennachie from across the globe will also link into the event via the internet.

From June 18 - 27

There will be the chance to see how historic documents are used to shed light on the landscape and social history of the northeast of Scotland by delving into the archives at the new University of Aberdeen Library.

Saturday June 16, 10am - 5pm

Members of the public will have the opportunity to get involved in a unique project, led by Peter Stollery, Professor in Composition and Electroacoustic Music at the University in Aberdeen, to create a musical composition using sounds recorded on Bennachie.

Booking is essential for most of these events - contact bennachielandscapes@scottish-heritage.org.uk or telephone 07812 087 898.

Attendees should meet at the Bennachie Centre, and under 16s must be accompanied by a responsible adult.

For more information on these events, and how to get involved in the research, contact Colin Shepherd, colin@scottish-heritage.org.uk.