MHG51786 - Medieval and Post- Medieval Settlement - Cromarty


Coastal erosion in 2012 revealed significant medieval and post-medieval deposits along the shoreline on the east side of Cromarty. Community excavations from 2013-2016 across an area adjacent to the shoreline has produced some spectacular results with regards to the settlement and economy of the burgh during the medieval to late medieval period.

Type and Period (1)

  • SETTLEMENT (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

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. <1>

In December 2012 winter storms and high tides revealed extensive medieval and post-medieval archaeological deposits along the shoreline on the east side of Cromarty. After a preliminary investigation, the Cromarty Medieval Burgh Community Archaeological Project was developed in response to this. This started in 2013 with a geophysical survey of Reed’s Park, an area adjacent to the shoreline erosion, and was followed by subsequent season of excavation from 2013-2016. This work has produce important information relating to the history of the town between the 13th and 19th centuries. In particular, the work of the project team including a large input of volunteers, uncovered a detailed picture of the layout and phasing of the buildings, activity areas and property boundaries running along each side of Thief’s Row, a former row within the burgh.

Landscaped layers of wood ash and shell middens covered 13th – 15th century medieval buildings, which comprised mostly post-hole alignments and ditch slots representing timber buildings respecting property boundaries running off the former medieval High Street (now the Causeway). The earliest structures appeared to have been built using timber and turf, followed by structures with wattle and daub panels using a combination of cruck-frame and upright timber post construction. The transition in the construction of buildings shows a general progression from mostly timber structures in the 13th/14th centuries to buildings with stone foundations and wooden superstructures in the 15th century; followed by construction in stone by the 17th/18th centuries. Within the 14th century, a widespread burnt layer was revealed extending across the site. More intense areas of burning mirrored the locations of medieval wattle and daub structures across a continuous horizon, indicating that a major conflagration event took place in the town.

Other structural evidence for medieval life in Cromarty included slab hearths, metal-working hearths, stone-lined storage pits and a stone-lined well. The 3m-deep well was accessed by a flight of sturdy steps. It was a surprise to the archaeologists to discover that the well went out of use after disposal of a pony carcass in its base. Another interesting result from the excavations was the prevalence of disused grain grinding querns and mill stones found in unusual abundance across the site – some complete, but also comprising fragments. Many such stones had been re-used in cobbled surfaces, building walls, as post bases and for hearth settings in buildings.

Medieval artefacts included spindle whorls for wool thread making, bronze and iron objects such as buckles, knife blades and sickles and a bone tuning peg from a musical instrument – most likely a harp. The tuning peg is an internationally important find comprising only the second such object to be recovered from a medieval context in Scotland (the other having come from excavations at Edinburgh Castle). Ceramics from England and the European Low Countries found in Cromarty reflect significant trade links in the burgh. Combined with the 13th-14th century coinage recovered by metal detecting in other parts of the town, the evidence shows that Cromarty had been a well established settlement at this time.

Economically, the archaeological evidence points to the medieval town being sustained by targeted sea fishing based primarily on Cod. Large numbers of iron fish hooks, and boat rivets, together with the fish remains, shellfish bait middens and deposits of wood ash indicate that industrial scale fish processing, including smoking and drying, was taking place on the site. The large numbers of ceramic jugs and large numbers of stone discs are also likely related to the local industry. Analysis of animal bone has also shown that cattle hide and sheep wool processing formed part of the town’s medieval industry. Fish, beef, mutton and pork were all being consumed by Cromarty’s inhabitants. Also of interest with regards to the animal bone assemblage is the raised levels of horse represented at the site, which had most likely been used for traction within the agricultural economy of the site.
For full details of the excavations, finds and radiocarbon dates, see attached excavation reports. <2> <3> <4> <5> <6>

Sources/Archives (6)



Grid reference Centred NH 7941 6725 (40m by 40m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH76NE
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY
Civil Parish CROMARTY

Finds (23)

  • CEREAL GRAIN (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (16th Century - 1501 AD to 1600 AD)
  • SHERD (Medieval to 21st Century - 1058 AD to 2100 AD)
  • EAR SCOOP (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • STRAP END (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • ANNULAR BROOCH (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • FISH REMAINS (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • SICKLE (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • ANIMAL REMAINS (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • WHETSTONE (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • TUNING PEG (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • WHISTLE (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • DISC (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • ROTARY QUERN (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • SPOON (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SPINDLE WHORL (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)
  • STRUCTURAL TIMBER (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • THIMBLE (Medieval to 21st Century - 1058 AD to 2100 AD)
  • TOGGLE (Medieval - 1058 AD to 1559 AD)
  • HANDLE (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)
  • COMB (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)
  • WINDOW (16th Century to 19th Century - 1501 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SHERD (Medieval to 19th Century - 1058 AD to 1900 AD)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (5)

External Links (1)

Comments and Feedback

Do you have any more information about this record? Please feel free to comment with information and photographs, or ask any questions, using the "Disqus" tool below. Comments are moderated, and we aim to respond/publish as soon as possible.