ARCHAEOLOGISTS are seeking to trace the lost settlements of the Glencoe Massacre for the first time.

A probe has been launched to find three hamlets which dissappar from historical records in the wake of the infamous murder of 38 members of the MacDonald clan by the troops of Robert Campbell of Glenlyon.  

The National Trust of Scotland has carried out initial survey work at the three settlements of Achtriachtan, Achnacon and Inverrigan,
with more detailed studies due to follow.

The massacre was carried out after the clan chief of the MacDonalds failed to meet a deadline to pledge allegiance to King William II.

The killings were regarded as especially heinous as the soldiers had enjoyed days of Highland hospitality before turning on their hosts and attacking at daybreak.

Derek Alexander, Head of Archaeology at the Trust, who was speaking ahead of the anniversary of the 1692 massacre tomorrow, said the work would enrich the understanding of the cultural heritage of the glen.

He said: "There are thousands of people who drive up the road through Glencoe and stop and look at the majestic beauty of the place but I think the human side of the story is often overlooked.

"This is an iconic landscape and what we are trying to find are the physical remains that tie that landscape to the story of the massacre.

"I'm surprised that is not been done before."

Many Highlanders are believed to have died after fleeing their townships, with some leaving their homes in advance after being tipped off about the planned execution.

Eighteenth-century military maps show six settlements in total through the glen.

But by the 19th century, they disappear from documents, given the townships were later cleared for sheep.

Mr Alexander said: "We can see there are eight buildings at Achtriachtan and the same again at Achnacon.

"There might even be evidence of an inn. You are looking at between 40 to 50 or 60 people living in the one settlement.

"We know 30 were killed during the massacre but we don't know how many died getting away.

"Once you start to look at the massacre from a landscape point of view you can plot the sequence of what happened and see how some people managed to get away, probably through the valley of Gleann Leac na Muidhe."

It was at Achnacon that Sergeant Robert Barber gathered his men in the early morning of 13 February, 1692, some time before 5am, and ordered the kill.

The soldiers then marched through the townships, with Barber taking 18 men to the home of his host, MacDonald of Achnacon.

Musket shots were fired through the windows, according to author John Prebble's book on the massacre, with the host's brother instantly killed.

Achnacon managed to escape after being dragged outside.

Meanwhile, 14 people were reportedly burned to death in one cottage.

Mr Alexander said the remains found at the three sites were probably turf and stone homes.