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COASTAL ARCHAEOLOGY

The Inner Moray Firth Coastal Assessment survey was undertaken by the Centre for Field Archaeology, University of Edinburgh (CFA) and encompassed the 160km coastal strip from Inverness to Tarbat Ness.

Previous archaeological investigations have taken place along the coastal foreshore and the intertidal zone in the area over the past 100 years. For example, in 1908 the Reverend Odo Blundell visited a site in the middle of the Beauly Firth and after a brief investigation declared the site a crannog. More recent research into two shell middens revealed Mesolithic activity in the Inverness area and lithic scatters associated with one of the middens suggested that the site was used for tool production. Intertidal research into the Beauly Firth crannogs(87) has established a chronological framework for the sites and limited excavations on one of the sites have investigated structural and functional attributes of marine crannogs.

The study area as defined for the project comprises a wide variety of coastal landforms as a result of both the drift and solid geologies and coastal and terrestrial geomorphological processes. The landforms include precipitous cliffs characterised by the North and South Sutors, at the mouth of the Cromarty Firth and north-east of Fortrose to Tarbat Ness. Estuarine environments are predominant within the Beauly and Cromarty Firths and Munlochy Bay, where intertidal mudflats, macro-tidal river channels and saltmarsh are common. The geological structure of the Moray Firth has been comprehensively mapped and described by the British Geological Survey in The Northern Highlands (1989) publication. The dominant basement lithology comprises metamorphosed Moine sediment, unconformably overlain by Old Red Sandstone of Devonian Age. The Old Red Sandstone is locally exposed along much of the coastal sections and is overlain by younger rocks of Permo-Triassic and Jurrasic Age. These rocks are derived from mainly non-marine sources such as aeolian dune sand and freshwater/brackish alluvial sediments.

Overview of the archaeology of the Area described in broad chronological divisions.
The excavation of two shell middens in Inverness confirmed evidence of Mesolithic activity in the study area. The two sites occupy a terrace on the delta formed at the mouth of the River Ness, at about 9m above current sea level. No additional Mesolithic sites were discovered during the survey and the recognition of the above deeply buried sites was as a result of development work.

Despite there being Neolithic monuments in the region; Clava-cairn type sites to the south and south-east and Orkney-Cromarty type cairns to the north and west, there were no such monuments recorded in the survey area.

There are two Bronze Age cist cemetery sites within or in close proximity to the survey area. The site at Dalmore on the northern shore of the Cromarty Firth was partially excavated during the latter part of the 19th Century. The site contained a series of cists containing urns, vessels and burnt bone. The marine crannogs in the Beauly Firth have recently been investigated and radiocarbon dates from three of the sites indicate that they were constructed and used in the later Bronze Age and Iron Age.

There are a large number of Pictish Age symbol stones in or close to the survey area. For example, the Clach A'Mheirlich, a class 1 symbol stone, which stands on the northern shore of the Cromarty Firth, probably dates to between the 7th and 9th century AD. Other Pictish Age symbol stones in the region are situated in close proximity to their contemporary coastal margins.

The Pre-Reformation chapel, Cille Bhrea, is associated with an extensive burial ground from which radiocarbon dating on the skeletal material produced dates of the 10th and 11th centuries AD. The Dunscaith castle site is the only motte site in the survey area. It was fortified by William the Lion in 1179 and stands on the southern edge of the North Sutor. The remains are now damaged by a military road and from ploughing. There are four other castles in the survey area; Shandwick castle was built in 1460 and has subsequently been completely destroyed. Castle Craig, on the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth, is a fine example of a 16th century tower house with vaulted main floors. It remains in a poor condition with only the eastern wing standing to it full height. Redcastle on the northern shore of the Beauly Firth is reported to be located on the site of Edradour, erected by William the Lion. The castle was modified in the 16th and later centuries and now stands as a roofless shell. Ballone castle, a late 16th century, Z-plan tower house, on the southern shores of the Tarbat peninsular has recently been restored and is currently occupied.

Surrounding the Inner Moray Firth and the Cromarty Firth are five 17th century grain stores known as girnals. These two-storey buildings were built by agricultural estate owners to store grain close to the production zones and also adjacent to the Firths. Currently they are in good condition and are used as private housing or in the case of one on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth, as a heritage museum.

The Caledonian canal was one of the largest engineering projects in the early 19th century in Scotland and the sea lock, basin, lock-keepers cottages, workshops and hand crane are all included in the survey area. Other industrial archaeological sites include the harbours designed by Thomas Telford at Avoch and Fortrose. Quarries that provided stone for these structures, and the piers along which this stone was transported to awaiting barges, were located around the Beauly Firth and a concentration is found along the southern shore of the Cromarty Firth.

Early 20th century monuments include World War I and II military complexes on the North and South Sutors. The heavy military presence attests to the importance of the Cromarty Firth, especially as a naval base during both wars. The military presence in the Firth include the remains of an airfield at Evanton and the RAF seaplane base at Alness Point.

Two case studies (Cille Bhrea chapel and Intertidal Fishtraps) were chosen to illustrate the range of coastal erosion or accretion that is affecting some of the archaeology on the Moray Firth coastline.

For more information about Archaeological sites visit the Highland Council Archaeology Service (http://www.highland.gov.uk/yourenvironment/conservation/archaeology) website.

 






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