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Cromarty

Boundary Wall(S) (Period Unassigned), Building(S) (Period Unassigned), Assemblage, Musical Instrument (Possible), Organic Material(S), Rotary Quern(S)

Site Name Cromarty

Classification Boundary Wall(S) (Period Unassigned), Building(S) (Period Unassigned), Assemblage, Musical Instrument (Possible), Organic Material(S), Rotary Quern(S)

Alternative Name(s) Cromarty Firth

Canmore ID 294014

Site Number NH76NE 319

NGR NH 7940 6726

NGR Description Centred NH 7940 6726

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/294014

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2019.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Highland
  • Parish Cromarty
  • Former Region Highland
  • Former District Ross And Cromarty
  • Former County Ross And Cromarty

Archaeology Notes

NH76NE 319 centred 7940 6726

Road & 4 roofed buildings marked on the 1st edition of the OS 6-inch map (Ross-shire and Cromartyshire, sheet lxvii; 1880) - stable condition.

19th century or earlier.

CFA/MORA Coastal Assessment Survey 1998.

Activities

Excavation (2013)

NH 7941 6722 The Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project was developed after winter storms and high tides in December 2012 revealed extensive medieval and post-medieval archaeological deposits on the E side of the town.

In the spring of 2013 a geophysical survey (see entry above) was conducted in Reed’s Park, the greenfield site adjacent to the shoreline erosion, to assess the potential for further archaeological remains. In the summer of 2013, in conjunction with SCAPE-SCHARP, the first three week season of a community excavation was undertaken on the shoreline and in Reed’s Park. Hard-working volunteers supported by professional archaeologists uncovered the post-medieval/abandonment phase of archaeological remains in this part of town including, Thief’s Row and the robbed out remains of three houses, which are shown on the OS map of 1880. The analysis of the artefacts recovered, many of them personal objects, plus animal/fish bone and shellfish remains, are allowing us to learn about how the people of Cromarty lived during the 18th and 19th centuries.

More targeted excavation below the 18th/19th-century layers uncovered significant medieval remains, including earlier road surfaces below Thief’s Row and the stone-built foundations of substantial buildings with evidence for cruck-frame construction. The preservation of the medieval remains is excellent, reinforcing our belief that medieval Cromarty was an important burgh, probably sustained by the fishing industry. Small finds from the deposits include ceramics dating to between the 12th and 15th centuries (including imported wares from the Scottish central belt, Yorkshire and the low countries of Europe), iron fish hooks and knives, stone and ceramic spindle whorls, rotary quern stones and numerous stone pot-lids. The querns have all been found built into the medieval buildings, which may indicate the reuse of convenient stone. One particularly large lower quern stone had been built into the wall of one of the buildings facing into the interior at floor level. Some of the earliest settlement evidence uncovered indicates possible destruction of earlier wooden buildings by fire.

The results suggest that the site may have been an industrial area for medieval Cromarty and that the fishing industry may have formed an important role in these activities. This is supported by the amount of shellfish remains (probably used for bait), fish bone, a significant number of stone pot-lids, dense ash layers and only very few domestic cooking pots. However, some of the deposits recovered from the earliest settlement on the site are domestic in nature. Post-excavation analysis will be undertaken to assess the results and to continue research into primary documentary sources. The project website will have more details as work progresses: www.medievalcromarty.org

Archive: WCAS and RoCAS. Report: Highland HER and OASIS (intended)

Funder: Hunter Archaeological Trust, SCAPE (Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problem of Erosion), SCHARP (Scotland’s Coastal Heritage at Risk), The Highland Council, The Cromarty Trust, Catherine Mackichan Trust, Global Energy Nigg Ltd, Nigg Energy Park, Cromarty Firth Port Authority, Ross and Cromarty Archaeological Services and West Coast Archaeological Services

Steven Birch, Mary Peteranna and Lynn Fraser, Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project, 2013

(Source: DES)

Excavation (12 July 2014 - 3 August 2014)

NH 7941 6722 (centred on) The Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project was developed after winter storms and high tides in December 2012 revealed extensive medieval and post-medieval archaeological deposits on the E side of the town.

Following successful excavations in 2013 (DES 2013, 97–8), further excavations were carried out, 12 July – 3 August 2014. Targeted open area excavations below the 18th/19th-century layers uncovered significant medieval remains, including stone-built foundations of substantial buildings, some showing evidence for cruck-frame construction, vennels

and boundary walls defining medieval and late medieval burgage plots running along the N side of Thief’s Row.

The preservation of the medieval archaeological remains is excellent, reinforcing our belief that medieval Cromarty was an important burgh, probably sustained by the fishing industry.

The remains of large footings for buildings on the N side of Thief’s Row suggest structures of at least two-storeys in height, possibly merchants houses dating to the 16th and 17th centuries. These indicate that Thief’s Row was not some minor road in the town where ‘backlands’ activities were taking place but formed a major thoroughfare in the centre of the medieval and late medieval burgh.

The results of the work in 2014 confirm that one area of the site may have been used for small-scale industry during the medieval period and that the fishing industry may have formed an important role in these activities. At the moment, this is supported by the amount of shellfish remains (most likely used for bait), fish bone, a significant number of stone discs or pot lids, and dense ash layers. It is, however, apparent that some of the deposits recovered from the earliest settlement are domestic in nature and further work is required to fully understand the site and to learn more about the foundations of the medieval burgh.

Small finds from the deposits include ceramics dating to between the 12th and 15th centuries (including imported wares from the Scottish central belt, Yorkshire and the Low Countries of Europe), iron fish hooks and knives, stone and ceramic spindle whorls, a significant assemblage of rotary quern stones, a large number of stone discs, and objects manufactured from bronze, iron and bone. The querns have all been found built into the medieval buildings, which may indicate the reuse of convenient stone. One particularly large lower quern stone had been built into the wall of one of the buildings facing into the interior at floor level, while a second stone had been incorporated into a paved surface or activity area. Some of the earliest settlement evidence uncovered

indicates possible destruction of earlier wooden buildings by fire and small-scale industrial processes.

Post-excavation analysis will be undertaken to assess the results, while research into primary documentary sources will continue. The project website will have more details as work progresses: www.medievalcromarty.org

Report: Cromarty Courthouse Museum, Highland HER, OASIS, and RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland Council, Cromarty Trust, Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust, the Art Fund through the Headley Trust

Steven Birch and Mary Peteranna – Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project

(Source: DES)

Excavation (26 June 2015 - 27 July 2015)

NH 7941 6722 (centred on) The Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project was developed after winter storms and high tides in December 2012 revealed extensive medieval and post-medieval archaeological deposits on the E side of the town. The erosion from the storms also revealed a stone wall, post and stakeholes and a possible boundary ditch.

Following successful excavations in 2013 and 2014 (DES 2013, 97-8; 2014, 101), further work was carried out, 26 June – 27 July 2015. This included the continuation of excavations in the main trenches opened in 2014, while a new area was opened to the E to look at the potential for further settlement along Thief’s Row.

The excavations recorded further structural evidence and associated finds for the last phase of settlement on the N side of Thief’s Row dating to the late 18th and 19th centuries. The extensively robbed-out foundations of two substantial buildings aligned parallel with Thief’s Row were recorded and a wide range of small finds, including Industrial period ceramics and glass, iron and stone objects, coins and buttons, and midden deposits containing animal bone and shellfish, were recovered. The corner of a third building, contemporary to the other ones, was identified in the NW corner of the site; the three buildings corresponding to those shown on the 1st Edition OS map.

Targeted open area excavations below the 18th-/19th-century structures and associated archaeological deposits uncovered the partially robbed-out and disturbed remains of two earlier houses, also aligned parallel to Thief’s Row. A fireplace/ hearth survived in the E gable of one of the buildings along with remnants of a cobbled and slabbed floor. Analysis of small finds recovered from these structures, including glass and ceramics, suggests that the houses may have been built during the early 18th century.

Excavations below these later buildings on the N side of Thief’s Row revealed further evidence of significant late medieval and medieval buildings and their associated deposits, including substantial stone-built foundations showing evidence for possible cruck-frame construction or some form of internal wooden uprights supporting upper floors. The foundations of at least six structures with stone foundations were recorded, with their gables fronting Thief’s

Row. The buildings displayed more enhanced preservation at the W end of the excavations, closer to the old High Street; while to the E, the buildings appear to have been more heavily robbed of their stone footings. A series of vennels, boundary walls, wooden fences and shallow U-shaped ditches define

the late medieval and medieval burgage plots running NE/ SW from the N side of Thief’s Row.

Excavations on the S side of Thief’s Row continued to reveal evidence for settlement, with the robbed-out remains of stone buildings, cobbled vennels, boundary walls, ditches and fences. Evidence for industrial activities including smallscale metalworking was also uncovered in this area, set within a building aligned NW/SE, with a substantial paved area fronting onto a vennel. A small smithing hearth was recorded in the structure, with a small bloom of iron still in situ. A deep pit to one side of the hearth may have held a wooden anvil/post, while a circular clay base may have formed a work surface for the smith.

During our excavations in 2015, we also uncovered further evidence of earlier, wooden/wattle and daub structures, underlying the later stone foundations. These structures are represented by postholes, foundation gullies/slots, and hearths, and have been built directly on the underlying natural sand. Intense areas of burning including charred posts and extensive ash deposits suggest that some form of conflagration event took place within this part of the

settlement. Further work is required to establish for certain the style of buildings represented by these ephemeral remains, their function and how they were destroyed. An extensive range and variety of small finds have been recovered from these earlier phases of settlement including ceramics dating to between the 13th and 15th centuries (including imported wares from the Scottish Central Belt, the Low Countries of Europe and Yorkshire in England), iron

fish hooks and knives, stone and ceramic spindle whorls, a significant assemblage of rotary quern stones, a large number of stone discs, and objects manufactured from bronze, iron and bone. A particularly important find this season was a bone tuning peg from a musical instrument, most likely a small harp, only the second of its type to be found in Scotland.

Midden deposits associated with these earlier phases of activity at the site include butchered domestic animal bone including cattle, sheep, goat, pig, horse, dog and cat, while wild species represented include hare, rabbit, seal, red and roe deer, and a small cetacean. A significant number of fish bones

were also recovered, primarily representing marine species. In particular, the medieval fish assemblage is dominated by cod, while pollock and whiting gain more prominence during the later medieval and post-medieval periods. Large shellfish middens were also sampled across the site relating to different phases of activity. The analysis of this material is currently taking place, but while smaller-scale oyster shell middens most likely relate to human consumption, the larger deposits comprising mussel, cockle, limpet and periwinkle, most likely relate to bait for fishing.

The results of our work on site in 2015 confirm that the site may have been used for small-scale industry during the medieval and later medieval periods and that the fishing industry may have formed an important role in these activities. However, it is apparent that some of the deposits recovered from the earliest settlement on the site are domestic in nature and further work is required to fully understand the site and to learn more about the foundations of the medieval burgh. The remains of large footings for buildings on the N side of Thief’s Row suggest structures of at least two-storeys in height, possibly merchants’ houses dating to between the 16th and 17th centuries, indicating that Thief’s Row was not merely some minor road in the town where backlands’ activities were taking place; but formed a major thoroughfare in the centre of the medieval and late medieval burgh.

Further post-excavation analysis will be undertaken during 2015/16, to assess the results from the first three seasons of work, while research into primary documentary sources will continue. Funding is also been sought to continue excavations at the site in 2016, to better understand the earlier settlement

phases and the activities that were taking place at this time. In particular, we hope to answer questions relating to the earliest foundations of the Royal Burgh and the evidence for a wide-scale burning event across the site during the 13th century. The project website will have more details as work

progresses: www.medievalcromarty.org.

Report: ADS, Cromarty Courthouse Museum, Highland HER and National Record of the Historic Environment (intended)

Funder: The National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, The Highland Council, The Cromarty Trust, the Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust, and the ArtFund through the Headley Trust

Steven Birch and Mary Peteranna – Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project

(Source: DES, Volume 16)

Excavation (11 June 2016 - 26 June 2016)

NH 7941 6722 (centred on) The Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project was developed after winter storms and high tides in December 2012 revealed extensive medieval and post-medieval archaeological deposits on the E side of the town. The erosion from the storms also revealed a stone wall, post and stakeholes and a possible boundary ditch.

Following successful excavations in 2013, 2014 and 2015 (DES 2013, 97–98; 2014, 101; 2015, 98–99), a final season of fieldwork was carried out, 11–26 June 2016. This included the continuation of excavations in the main trenches opened in 2014 and 2015.

As in previous years the excavations achieved some excellent results. In most areas of the site we managed to get down to the natural sand, enabling us to investigate the complex sequence/phases of structures, including the major burnt horizon identified running across the site in 2015.

Intense areas of burning mirrored the locations of medieval wattle and daub structures, from which we identified and recovered carbonised structural timbers, including wattle and daub panel fragments, and iron fittings from the structures, including nails and door furniture. The burnt

horizon probably dates to somewhere between the early and late 14th century, and samples from this horizon have been submitted for radiocarbon dating. In one area of the site associated with the burning we also recovered large amounts of burnt grain (barley, wheat, oats and rye), which may have comprised a grain store within one of the buildings. Burnt

pottery sherds and other small finds were also recovered from this burnt horizon.

Evidence from the excavations has enabled us to identify a wide range of construction techniques for the various buildings on site. The earliest structures appear to have been manufactured from timber and turf, followed by wattle and daub panel construction (both of these phases

used a combination of cruck-frame and upright timber post construction). After these phases came stone foundations with wattle and daub/clay-bonded superstructures (during the 14th century), with some of these buildings reaching two or three-storeys in height. Finally, after the late 17th century, we see single storey buildings with clay-bonded stone walls.

At various times, the roof structures comprised turf, thatch, pan tile and slate. The excavations overall have provided a snapshot of the layout of the burgh in this part of the town, from the 13th to 19th centuries. Of particular interest is the manner in which building alignments have changed through time.

The medieval buildings were initially built parallel to their road access, with stone and gravel-surfaced vennels running between them. New buildings were then turned through 90° with their gable-ends addressing the street frontage. The individual structures were set within burgage plots defined

by boundary ditches, low boulder walls and fence lines, and were accessed from the road by stone-surfaced vennels which ran up the E side of the buildings to the doorways.

Within the late 17th to early 18th centuries, the buildings returned to their original alignments, parallel to the road. It is possible that these major shifts in the arrangement of the buildings between the 15th and 16th centuries relate to severe erosion of the adjacent coastline and loss of land, resulting in the re-alignment of the burgh to the E of the old High Street. However, it is most likely that the final changes seen in the 17th/18th centuries relates to radical changes in property boundaries and land holdings which came about due to the Royal Burgh losing its status during the middle of the 17th century. Whatever the case may be, we have a wealth of data to review regarding building alignments and property boundaries, which should allow us to reconstruct in some detail the overall layout of the town in this area.

A wide range of small finds was recovered during the 2016 excavations, including stone, lead and ceramic spindle whorls, coarse stone tools including a large number of stone discs of unknown function, coins, iron nails and fittings, a bronze strap-end, and a large assemblage of medieval

ceramics. The assemblage is dominated by what appears to be a locally produced redware industry, which includes jugs and a few cooking pots.

This season also produced 13 sherds of east coast white gritty ware, a small number of sherds of this diagnostic material when compared to assemblages of ceramics from other E coast burghs. Imported wares identified from this season’s assemblage are represented by Yorkshire types, both white and red glazed ware (37 sherds), Low Countries grey wares (2 sherds) and a number of sherds from an unidentified provenance.

From an industrial and economic aspect, the excavations recovered evidence for small-scale metalworking/smithing, weaving, and, of course, fishing. Midden deposits associated with the earlier phases of activity at the site include butchered domestic animal bone including cattle, sheep, goat, pig, horse, dog and cat, along with some wild species including hare, rabbit, seal, red and roe deer, and a small cetacean. A significant number of fish bones were also recovered, primarily representing marine species. In particular, the medieval fish assemblage is dominated by cod, while pollock, whiting and herring gain more prominence during the later medieval and post-medieval periods. Large shellfish middens were also sampled across the site relating to different phases of activity. The analysis of this material is currently taking place, but while smaller-scale oyster shell middens most likely relate to human consumption, the larger

deposits comprising mussel, cockle, limpet and periwinkle, most likely relate to bait for fishing.

In the earliest phases of settlement we uncovered two stone-lined pits, built into the sand. These may have been used for underground storage, similar to a souterrain. However, one of the most spectacular discoveries this year was a medieval well. When we first identified the outline of this structure we thought we had found another grain-drying kiln - the clay bonding covering the top course of stones displaying a roughly figure of eight outline. It took three-days to remove an homogeneous fill of brown soil containing some shell fragments and only one sherd of medieval pot, and some stone towards the base, to finally reveal a wonderful structure

around 3m deep. The stonework of the well chamber comprised the finest quality structural evidence from the whole site, while a well constructed flight of sturdy steps led down to the ‘cistern’. No exact parallels for this structure have yet been identified within the archaeological literature, with most wells having vertical walls, but the structure has a number of parallels in the Iron Age. In the base of the well, the sticky sediments produced little in the way of small finds. However, at some stage in its use, a small and complete/articulated pony had been deposited in the base of

the structure. Whether this represents deliberate poisoning of the well, or the final closure of the structure, is as yet unclear.

The well was an exciting find to make in the last week of the excavations, but also of great interest are the reuse and deposition of querns and millstones at the site – over 40 querns and quern fragments have now been recovered.

Some of the querns have been used as hearths in buildings – in one medieval building we uncovered two querns and a larger millstone representing different phases of use of the building; all in slightly different locations in the structure. However, the most unique discovery was a

stack of three upper rotary-type quern stones/small mill stones used as hearths (overlapping in their location in a medieval building), with slab-type hearths located below and above – a total of five hearths representing different phases of occupation and use within the building. Other querns have been used as post-pads, within paved areas such as vennels, and within the walls of medieval buildings – in fragments, but also as complete querns.

The use of querns stones at the site warrants further study: were the querns convenient raw materials to be reused in structures; or does their presence hold a more symbolic meaning, a factor that is now being increasingly recognised in prehistoric contexts?

Further post excavation analysis will be undertaken to assess the results from the four seasons of fieldwork, while research into primary documentary sources will continue. In particular, we hope to answer research questions relating to the earliest foundations of the Royal Burgh and the evidence for the wide-scale burning event identified across the site during the 14th century.

Report: 2013 and 2014 Cromarty Courthouse Museum, Highland

HER, NRHE and OASIS (intended). 2015/16 due for release February 2017

Website: www.medievalcromarty.org

Funder: National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund, Highland Council, Cromarty Trust, Hunter Archaeological and Historical Trust and ArtFund through the Headley Trust

Steven Birch and Mary Peteranna – Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeology Project

(Source: DES, Volume 17)

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