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Date 1989

Event ID 998518

Category Recording

Type Excavation


Spynie Palace was the principal residence of the Bishops of Moray from the 13th century until the abolition of episcopacy in the late 17th century. Its ruins are situated 3Km north of Elgin and 5Km from the sea, which formerly extended as far as the palace via the now partially drained Spynie Loch. Trial trenching in 1986 was followed by excavation within the N range and the adjacent watergate area in 1987. Work was completed in the watergate area and within the S range during the following year, but the extensive area between the S range and the massive SW corner tower ('Davy's Tower') was not finished during that season (Discovery Excav Scot 1987; 1988; 1989).

The principal aims of the 1989 season were: to complete the work, started the previous year, outside the S range; excavate; and to investigate the NW corner of the enclosure, at the junction of the N and W ranges.

The 1989 Excavation

The South Area: Only c5m of the curtain wall (partially excavated in 1988) survived beyond the E face of 'Davy's Tower'. Its 1.80m wide foundations comprised two layers of large, angular rubble, separated by a layer of coarse sand. The curved face of the masonary at the base of the tower's E wall did not extend into the S side of the building and is unlikely to have belonged to an earlier structure, as has been suggested. There were numerous features cut into the sandy subsoil to the E of the tower, including sub-rectangular pits, backfilled with rubble, and several circular postholes, typically 200mm in diameter. Thus far, these pits and postholes have presented no obvious pattern but the proposed northward extension of the excavation area may help resolve the problem. The recent installation of large concrete bases to the E of the tower may have been responsible for the lack of such features further S.

Northwest area: Although excavation was far from complete, several masonary structures were uncovered after the extensive and often deep, overburden was removed from this area. Much of the 2m wide W curtain survived only as rubble foundations or, in places, merely as a spread of mortar and clay. It was also apparent that at least some of the wall's standing masonary was a recent fabrication. The relationship between the N and W ranges is not yet clear although limited investigation suggested that there were two chambers, perhaps separated by a corridor or pend, wikthin the excavated area. To the south, and undoubtedly part of the W range, was a vaulted basement wherein little evidence of occupation survived. On the N side of the area, between the W curtain and the W watergate chamber, was a room measuring c9.0m WE by at least 6.0m wide. Within this basement chamber were remnants of a flagged floor and a stone sided structure which, although only partially excavated. resembled the base of a kiln. However, it is difficult to envisage how such a kiln could have functioned, given that its 2.0m long'flue' terminated against the inside face of the N curtain wall.

The North Range: The surface of a rock cut pit was exposed at the E end of the N range in 1987 but further investigation had to await the consolidation of the stonework wihtin the building's adjacent somewhat unsafe E gable. Work was resumed in 1989 when the pit was shown to be a 1.1m to 1.6m diameter well, cut to a depth of 8.0m into the bedrock. Only the bottom 1.0m of the shaft was under water in the rather dry weather experienced during the excavation. At a depth of 1.8m there were four courses 1.2m high of a tightly jointed curved ashlar linig, supported on two massive sandstone lintels that spanned faults in the rock. Numerous carved stone blocks, similar to those used in the well's lining, were found within the lower levels of infill, suggesting that the shaft was orginally lined as far as (and probably beyond) the present ground surface. There was no indication that the well had been lined below the level of the lintels. The infill comprised voided rubble, much of it worked sandstone, and dark silts which contained several fragments of leather but few other artefacts. The notable exception, at the base of the shaft, was an almost complete ceramic jug, of probable 17th century date, which suggests the well was still in use towards the end of Spynie's occupation.

(see DES for plan)

Sponsor SDD: HDM

John Lewis 1989

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