by Mary Peteranna (AOC)
Our excavations in 2014 produced more informative data to assist with our research into the history of the Burgh of Cromarty including a more detailed picture of the layout and phasing of the buildings along each side of Thief’s Row, where our main excavation site is located (see a history of Thief’s Row) This includes the footings of three buildings shown on the 1880 Ordnance Survey map sheet on the north side of Thief’s Row, under which we identified the remains of another earlier structure, dating to the 18th century. At our limit of excavations on the north side of the road we uncovered three medieval structures with associated cobbled vennels and boundary walls – these have produced ceramics of 14th to 15th century date. One of these structures had been re-used during the 16th to early 18th centuries and the thickness of the clay-bonded walls would suggest it was at least a two-storey high building – most likely a merchant’s house.
To the south side of Thief’s Row, our excavations uncovered extensive structures and deposits of medieval date (13th to 15th centuries) including stone buildings and more ephemeral wattle and daub structures, along with their associated boundary gullies, vennels and evidence for small-scale smithing, which will be investigated further in 2015. These areas of settlement and activity were abandoned relatively early in the settlement history of the burgh, the structures being landscaped over with spreads of ash, fish bone, animal bone and shellfish middens that were most likely generated from activities taking place on the north side of Thief’s Row and along the High Street to the west. In the latter stage of the 18th century, the south side of the road was then given over to small garden plots and eventually more open fields.
Ceramics analysis of the 2013-2014 assemblages by specialists Derek Hall and George Haggerty has confirmed several major phases of activity:
- Industrial Period ceramics relating to the houses built in the 19th century (apart from a smallish group of Chinese Porcelain, White Salt Glazed Stoneware, Dipped and Banded creamware and decorated pearlwares dating from the later 18th and early 19th centuries, and a few earlier 17th century Tin Glazed shards, the vast majority of this material is of Victorian date;
- Post-Medieval ceramics including Scottish Post Medieval Reduced and Oxidised Wares of 16th, 17th and early 18th century date;
- Medieval ceramics relating to the earlier phases of activity – this assemblage is dominated by what is in all probability a locally produced redware fabric, and as with the 2013 season there are variations in these Redware fabrics which may suggest that some were produced elsewhere in the northeast of Scotland; there is also unprovenanced Whitewares, imported Yorkshire and Scarborough Type Wares, Low Countries Greywares, Low Countries Redwares, Low Countries Highly Decorated Wares and three sherds of Rhenish stoneware (Langewehe and Raeren). The medieval material would appear to be tightly dated to the 13th/14th centuries, although some of the Redwares may have been used in later periods. There is also a small but important group of probably handmade ceramic sherds that appear to be in a reduced or burnt iron rich fabric with similarities in construction to wares from nearby Portmahomack, although this needs to be confirmed.
Of particular interest on the site is the growing evidence for a fishing economy in the Burgh of Cromarty based primarily on Cod. This fits in with evidence recovered from other East Coast burghs from Scotland into England. Along with the fish bones and shellfish remains (bait middens) we have found a growing number of iron fish hooks and a significant number of stone discs, which may have been used as net sinkers; the stones fitted into pockets within the nets as they were cast over the side of the boats. However, further research is required to provide a definite function for these enigmatic objects.