Category Archives: Medieval

Tarradale Archaeological Project – Findings to Date

by Dr. Eric Grant (NOSAS)

Background to the project. The Tarradale Archaeological Project started as a private initiative around 2008 and was incorporated as an approved NOSAS research project in 2011. The Tarradale archaeological project aims to investigate and record the surviving archaeological evidence of the multi-period archaeological landscape of the Tarradale area and to interpret the chronological development of settlement and resource utilisation in the study area. The main activity of the project so far has been field walking which has been very successful and as data has been collected and analysed the parameters of the project have moved and the aims extended.

Aerial photo of Tarradale area with Tarradale house in the foreground. Tarradale Castle (destroyed 1308) was probably located above and below the steep bank in the field immediately below Tarradale House. ). (Picture by courtesy of Jim bone).

Aerial photo of Tarradale area with Tarradale house in the foreground. Tarradale Castle (destroyed 1308) was probably located above and below the steep bank in the field immediately below Tarradale House. (Picture by courtesy of Jim Bone).

1. Location and extent of the Tarradale study area. The study area comprises about 750 hectares of mainly agricultural land at the eastern end of the parish of Urray on the northern side of the inner Beauly Firth in Ross-shire. Historically the area was co-terminous with the old landholding unit of Tarradale  estate and the ecclesiastical parish of Gilchrist or Tarradale, which was a separate parish until becoming amalgamated with the parish of Urray in the late 16th The historical centre of Tarradale was the old parish church, now surviving only as a mausoleum at Gilchrist. Following the building (or rebuilding) of Tarradale House in the 17th century, Tarradale House became the administrative centre (caput) of the estate.

A large part of the area is raised estuarine beaches and that area today is flat or gently undulating high-quality agricultural land that is regularly ploughed. To the north of the former raised beaches the land rises towards the Mulbuie Ridge as undulating hillside mainly covered with boulder clay. Apart from Gilchrist Chapel and some standing stones probably erected in the Bronze Age, there are few visible archaeological monuments in the area that is intensively ploughed, although aerial photographs show cropmarks that can be interpreted as ring ditches, pits and enclosures. This contrasts with the more upland and less intensively cultivated area where there are standing monuments including Tarradale chambered cairn and an indeterminate feature which has been called a henge but is better referred to with the more general term of earthwork.

Tarradale chambered cairn

Tarradale chambered cairn

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Cromarty Medieval Burgh Excavations 2014

by Mary Peteranna (AOC)

CMBCAP 2014

Excavations to the north of Thief’s Row 2014

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.

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A site tour at Cromarty 2014

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Rubh’ an Dunain, Skye: 8000 Years of History

by Martin Wildgoose

ap glenbrittle

Aerial view of the Rubh’ an Dunain peninsula

Members of NOSAS walking towards the tackman’s house on Rubh’ an Dunain. Canna is on the skyline.

A warm sunny Sunday in early June saw NOSAS members gathering in the Glenbrittle campsite, at the foot of the Cuillin Mountains. The view south was spectacular, Canna seemed unusually close and South Uist and Barra lay in the haze on the horizon. Close at hand the Rubha an Dunain peninsular stretched out to the left of the bay with a ribbon of made-up path promising an easy walk to the point where 8000 years of Skye’s history lies exposed to view. Just an hour and a half later the group paused to enjoying a mid-morning coffee prior to crossing the Slochd Dubh (Black Hollow) where a late 18th century wall marks the boundary between Clan MacAskill and Clan MacLeod – but more of that later.

The first people to leave tangible evidence of their stay on the peninsula were Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who travelled throughout the islands off the west coast of Scotland on a seasonal round, in pursuit of food and tool resources. A site excavated at Kinloch on Rum (HER MHG 3987) between 1984 and 1986*, only a day’s boat journey away to the south west, may be the winter base for these pioneers. A small rock shelter (HER MHG4898) at Rubh an Dunain, partially excavated in 1932 by W Lindsay Scott**, contained many worked stone tools and the debris from their manufacture – evidence of repeated visits to the site during this period. Additionally a recently recorded lithic scatter on a terrace close to Loch na h-Airde shows that more sites of this period await discovery (the day in fact finished with NOSAS members happily picking fragments of worked bloodstone and mudstone out of a nearby burn).

Martin points towards Loch na h-Airde from just outside the rock shelter.

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The Rosemarkie Caves Project

by Simon Gunn (NOSAS)

The subterranean section of NOSAS, the Rosemarkie Caves Project (RCP), is planning more work in the caves this year (2015). The RCP was set up to research the archaeology of the caves on the Moray Firth coast near Rosemarkie.

The group started its work in 2006 with a weekend excavation of Learnie 2B when evidence was found of occupation and leatherwork in the 19th century, probably by summer travellers. This was followed by a more ambitious 14 day dig at Cairds’ Cave in 2010, when we confirmed that the cave had been excavated 100 years before by local doctor William MacLean. Through analysis of bone and charcoal, the cave was found to have been in use as far back as 300BC, the time of Alexander the Great.

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

2006 dig at Learnie 2B

Outside Cairds' Cave in 2010

Outside Cairds’ Cave in 2010

There are 19 caves on this 2.5 mile stretch of coastline, they have been high and dry for over 4000 years and apart from interest by RCP and Dr MacLean, their archaeological potential has never been explored. Since 2010, the RCP members have surveyed all 19 caves and then in 2013 started a program of test-pitting. The purpose of this was to get a feel for the archaeology that might be there, but mainly to find deep samples of bone and charcoal for dating which would ascertain in which periods the caves were used and to find out, if possible, the earliest occupation.
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A Cross Stone found in Rosemarkie

by Tim Blackie (NOSAS)

Rosemarkie Cross Stone (Tim Blackie)

Rosemarkie Cross Stone (Tim Blackie)

This intriguing carved, reworked and relatively portable piece of sandstone (0.32 x 0.38 x 0.15m) was originally located in a rockery in the garden of 1 High Street, Rosemarkie.

Neither the owners of the house nor the local community have any knowledge of its provenance. The find location at 1 High Street is at the south west top of the High Street close to Rosemarkie Church and ancient graveyard where many Pictish and medieval stones have been discovered. The owners were selling their house and offered it to me as I was intrigued with its most unusual design.

The front of the stone appears to bear the design of a cross carved in relief and the rear is flat. It may have originally been rectangular (possibly square or close to it) with a broad chamfered margin on at least three sides. The very prominent chamfer could be a feature of a cross slab associated with the early medieval Pictish centre at Rosemarkie but could equally point to being an architectural fragment with a later date. The fact that the chamfer has been partly removed and an arc cut out of the stone shows that the stone has been perhaps reworked and re-used for another purpose.

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Cromarty Medieval Burgh Dig 2014: A Volunteer’s Perspective

by Rosemary Jones (NOSAS)

The 2013 dig had been great fun, so we offered our help for 2014. Bob was set to work, using a mattock, a draw hoe and a barrow, though not necessarily in that order. For me, the choice was a little harder: my back is troublesome, but I had been told to keep active, so I was asked to tidy up one of the uncovered 2013 trenches so that it could be photographed. Eventually Paul, the finds ‘cataloguer’, told me he didn’t want my offering of several fish bones, which was all I could find for the first few days. Michael joined me to uncover more of the trench, more tidying. Then things looked up: med pot appeared and half of a glazed, ceramic spindle whorl – I was on a roll. In the wall was what appeared to be part of a quern, then another (which wasn’t). I moved onto another trench to do some trowelling where I uncovered a whole quern stone.

Meanwhile my original trench was in danger from Bob and Dave: their dug area had impinged on one longitudinal wall. Hours later there was no trench, just a vast uncovered area, out of which a total of 5 pieces of quern stone were removed, 3 of which fitted together. Why anyone would break such an object is a mystery, but several such broken, and at least one unbroken, were found incorporated into the walls of the buildings. Likewise, Bob, among others, found a broken iron pot with a large stone on top of it, under what appeared to be the entrance to one of the medieval houses. Why would anyone break an iron pot? I can see that you could bury broken pottery, to avoid having to explain how it came to be in such a state, but iron?

Pieces of Quern Stone Cromarty

Pieces of quern stone (Bob Jones)

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