Historians have long puzzled about where the dead were buried after the Battle of Killiecrankie. After all the numbers are huge. According to local historian, Rulzion Rattray, at least 2,100 are thought to have died at Killiecrankie. The lowest estimates put the toll at 600 Jacobites and 1,500 Williamites, making this the bloodiest of all Jacobite engagements, including Culloden.

Military historian, Neil Ritchie, says that in battles of the period, bodies of the fallen would usually be buried on the site of the battle or close by. “Some senior figures may have been taken from the field and buried in consecrated ground – such as Claverhouse at St Bride’s Kirk – but the bulk of the men who fell would be put into pits on or very near the battle site.”

Jacobs and Transport Scotland have known since November 2016 the location of possible burial sites. These were discovered in the field adjacent to the existing A9 that is to be purchased to build a slip road for the Aldclune junction, a huge SuDs drainage basin and a new access road.

Historic Environment Scotland says that the pits could be “highly significant features”. If they are verified as burial pits, they would have to be preserved
in situ. Not only would that effectively scupper the planned junction at Aldclune but it could necessitate a complete re-think of the project on the battle site.

The only discovery of buried remains was made in 1793 near where the memorial cairn is now located. No archaeological investigations were recorded when the original A9 was built, bisecting the battlefield. It is possible that graves were disturbed or even destroyed at that time. Attitudes and legislation have changed since then. Neither historians nor contractors can contemplate ignoring possible graves.

A very limited amount of archaeological investigation was done in 2003 and further metal detecting was undertaken in 2015. Dr Tony Pollard of Glasgow University was consulted in the course of Stage 2. Nothing was discovered to indicate the location of graves.

That was the situation until eagle-eyed readers spotted a reference to possible burial pits, deep in an Appendix to the Environmental Statement (ES) that was published in November 2017.

Jacobs commissioned AOC Archaeology to investigate the potential for buried remains on the proposed road over a year ago. During a 4-day geophysical (gradiometer) survey conducted in November 2016, some 7 Parcels of land were surveyed. Five of them are within the Inventory Battlefield. At Parcel 3 a number of “pit-like anomalies” were identified. According to the AOC report, “Burial pits should not be considered unexpected in areas surrounding battlefield sites and these features could be related to the battle or its aftermath.”

Parcel 3

Click image to enlarge.

Neil Ritchie explains, “Say over 2000 men fell in the musket volleys and the close-quarter fighting, along Mackay’s battle line - which followed the current line of the A9 - then it is likely that a small number of large pits or several smaller ones will roughly follow that line. It is also possible that some may be buried in the large field where Claverhouse's Stone is located. It is a flat open space which would be ideal for burial. However, if the battlefield clearance was carried out by local people - in small numbers - then they would dig shallow pits close to the fallen and would not be carrying large numbers of bodies to a set location.”

The pits have been discovered in the field next to the memorial cairn, called Tomb Clavers, the only site where human remains have ever been found. The fighting was at its most intense in this area and along the route of the new road. None of this has been subjected to a geophysical survey.

HES wants a great deal more archaeological investigation done in order to understand the extent of the main body of the fighting more fully. In turn that will inform the design of the road. And Transport Scotland is reminded that they must “avoid and minimise effects which may impact archaeological potential, landscape context or interpretation”.

Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust is equally forthright, saying that given the significance of the pits, they should have been investigated thoroughly at Stage 3 to inform decision making. Instead no mention of the possibility that these finds could be graves was made in the Environmental Statement (ES).

This is not the only historical feature that the ES has chosen to downplay. But it may be the one that changes the course of the A9 project at Killiecrankie. Click on image to enlarge.

ES figure of battlefield with red pit dots small