Earlier this year, an international team of researchers announced that they had identified the site of the oldest known massacre in human history – in the village of Potočani, in what is now eastern Croatia. Following analysis of a mass grave containing the remains of at least 41 men, women and children, they revealed that the unfortunate victims had been brutally murdered more than 6,000 years ago.
Tragically, such acts have been a regular feature of human conflict ever since – and locations as varied as Amritsar and Srebrenica, Rwanda and Guatemala, Malmedy and My Lai have all earned their places in the annals of infamy. During the 20th century alone, it is estimated that between 50 million and 150 million people died in massacres perpetrated by and against a wide range of nations, cultures, governments and ethnic and religious groups.
But while examples of indiscriminate mass killing may sadly be relatively commonplace, each has its own uniquely terrible story – the appalling product of time, place and a particular set of circumstances.
In the case of Glencoe, the story of the massacre of at least 30 members and associates of the MacDonald clan – allegedly for failing to sign an oath of allegiance to the new monarchs, William III and Mary II – is widely recognised as one of the darkest chapters in Scottish history. Thanks to the efforts of novelists, historians and poets, the events of 13 February 1692 will live on for ever – as a byword for treachery and as an example of the savage behaviour of government forces in the aftermath of the 1689 Jacobite Rising.
As we discover this week on The Past, however, what remains less well understood is what became of the physical remains of the settlements directly affected by the atrocity, and what those remains can tell us now about life at the time. In the new issue of our sister magazine Current Archaeology and on the latest edition of The PastCast, our unmissable podcast, Derek Alexander reports on recent fieldwork by the National Trust for Scotland that sheds new light on conditions in Glencoe during the 17th and 18th centuries.
Also this week, we are delving into the archives to bring you a deeper understanding of the Jacobite Risings: in Military History Matters, Jeremy Black analysed the political and military significance of the rebellions that punctuated British history between 1689 and 1746; and Chris Bambery described how an army of Highland Scots outmanoevred the Redcoats to secure victory at the forgotten battle of Prestonpans. Meanwhile, in Current Archaeology, we revealed how recent finds compare with a commanding officer’s account of the ‘bluidy’ Battle of Killiekrankie, the opening engagement of the first Jacobite Rising.
And finally, we continue the theme with our latest quiz, which this week is also designed to test your knowledge of the Jacobite Risings. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!
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