Known as Malcolm's Mount, this hillock, crowned with a clump of trees but originally with a cairn of stones, has been traditionally regarded as the burial place of Malcolm I of Scotland.
His reign extended over a period stated to be between four and eleven years. It is said , he was defeated and slain in battle in 954, while attempting to subdue the rebel chief of Moray and his men of the Moerne (Mearns) who had found their way into his kingdom.The idea seemed to be confirmed on Friday, January 4th, 1822, by Professor Stuart, the antiquary, when some labourers, quarrying in this cairn or tumulus for road metal, discovered an ancient grave.
In the centre of the eminence and under several large stones, 4'6 below the surface of the ground, the top of a short stone cist was discovered.This was an unhewn whinstone slab 7'3 long and 4' broad. The sides and ends were composed of four stones, also of unhewn whinstone, 4'4 long, 2'3 broad and 20 deep.
The only portion of the corpse not totally decomposed, was part of the bones of the leg, to which was attached a small quantity of that white, fatty and waxy substance called adipocere sometimes found in old cemetries. The spinal bones had retained their form in their transmutation to a fine, reddish-coloured earth, slightly unctuous and sufficiently adherent to admit of one of the vertebrae being found complete but falling into powder with the slightest pressure.
The dimensions of these vertebrae, indicated that they were those of a fully grown person about the middle stature. The body in contracted posture had been laid on its right side with the face towards the south, and the bones of the knees were found near the foot of the short cist, making it evident that the legs had been folded back. Indeed, it appeared that one of the leg bones had been broken near the middle.
At the top of the cist, was a much decayed vegetable substance, possibly a sod of turf on which the head rested, still retaining an impression although no part of the skull nor any of the teeth remained, the skull having fallen into reddish dust. Scattered on the vegetable substance was what has been alleged to be a large quantity of beautiful auburn hair about 5 long and at least in part human. What remained of the body, embedded in soft vegetable matter which extended for about 11 was, we are asked to believe, covered with an unusual network robe, beautifully made and showing various designs including an oval which is supposed to have covered the face.
The substance is said to have fallen into dust soon after being exposed to the air. This romantic description which appeared in The Antiquarian regarding human hair and the remnants of a shroud is not in keeping, however, with the analysis made by Aberdeen University from which we are assured that the hair-like material was ramenta or paleae, fibrous material at the base of a fern.
Similarly, there have been extravagant stories concerning a small hemispherical box or urn, about 6' feet in depth and 28 in circumference, about the size of a coconut and placed as if it had been originally folded in the arms of the body. One Rudricous tale assures us it was united to the body by minute stitches, whatever was in it had turned to a reddish-yellow colour, unctuous to the touch. When removed, it soon became hard and earth like.
Again, a University analysis has shown that the basin was made of peat with root hairs showing distinctly, and the flat lid of willow timber. A piece of the outside covering was of some genus of fungus which grows on trees, such as polyporus.
The bottom of the cist was covered with small, white pebbles, gathered from the sea beach. Surrounding the body and along the lower half of the cist were found not fewer than 150 small, black balls, plainly vegetable and ultimately found to be crab apples.
At the time of the discovery the laird of Fetteresso Castle had the cist carefully covered up again and planted the trees which grace the mound today.This helped to preserve a few of the relics in the Castle. The cist was accidentally rediscovered on 5th April, 1975, on this occasion being left uncovered as shown in the accompanying photograph. What remains of the contents can be seen in the Anthropological Museum, Marischal College, Aberdeen.
Where Malcolm Died
The actual place of Malcolm's death is, however, a matter of dispute. A mere mention of it in the Pictish Chronicle says he was killed at a place called Fodresach- Et occiderunt viri na Moerne Maelcolam in Fodresach id est in Claideom. (And the men of the Mearns killed Malcolm in Fetteresso in Claideom).
No place-name is known in Scotland so analogous to this as Fetteresso, and accordingly it has been concluded that he was slain here. Furthermore, W. J. Watson in his History of the Celtic Place-Names says that Fodresach means fothair easach or terraced slope by the waterfall (eas a waterfall). The rising ground of Malcolm's Mount stands in the plain of Arduthie between the Carron and the Cowie, and the spot seems more appropriate than any other in the whole extensive parish.
The Bronze Age Burial
But the possibility that the remains found at Malcolm's Mount were those of King Malcolm I is absurd indeed since the grave is two or three thousand years older than his time Certainly the few relics indicate superiority of rank, for only leaders were honoured with graves of this class.Otherwise the grave is not distinguished in the smallest degree, from other such graves found elsewhere in the area.
For example at the Cross of Stonehaven or at Ury stables. It is, in fact, an excellent example of the Inhumation of the dead in short stone cists which was largely introduced during the second part of the Early Bronze Age, between 1900 and 1400 B.C. and possibly even as early as 2000 B.C. when another intensive settlement of Scotland took place at the close of the Stone Age. Collective burials in the long barrows of their predecessors were no more.