9.3.2.3 Southern Highlands

There are fewer sites known from the southern Highlands, though undoubtedly results from the many excavations in Inverness over the past decades will augment this picture when fully published or extracted from excavation reports. Non-castle sites remain elusive apart from the burgh sites and Portmahomack. This area has also seen a great deal of metal detecting activity, particularly in the Dornoch area; Cromarty, Fortrose, Rosemarkie and Redcastle on the Black Isle; Ardersier, between Inverness and Nairn; and Kiltarlity/Beauly, the results of which make clear there were people in the area whose houses archaeologists have not discovered.

The extraordinary sequence of occupation at the Learnie Caves near Rosemarkie on the Black Isle continued into the medieval period, although use of the caves may have been less intensive than the early medieval Period. A final report is awaited once post-excavation work is compete, but radiocarbon dates show activity in several caves (see Table 9.3). At Learnie 1A medieval pottery was also found (Birch and Peteranna 2019). When combined with evidence from elsewhere in the Highlands, it is clear that there was wide activity in caves and rockshelters, even if its exact nature is often unclear.

After the early medieval period activity at Portmahomack, a range of activity occurred from around 1250, in the fields surrounding the church. A small fishing village marked by huge middens and a house platform, oven and a well were joined by the monastic enclosure being reworked and put under ridge and furrow cultivation. The middens were a combination of food, bait preparation and domestic waste, yielding fish bones butchered for preservation and a group of fishing equipment.  Evidence for textile working went hand-in-hand with the rise in sheep numbers among the animal bone assemblages. Coin evidence indicates date parameters of 1250 to 1350 for this activity. There followed a hiatus of about 100 years again indicated by coin-use profiles. Between 1450 and 1550 new activity is signalled. The middens were levelled and stone walls erected for cattle and for a smithy. Sites of buildings were indicated by curvilinear gullies, internal storage pits and occasional truncated postholes; the floor levels have been lost to the plough. Finds associated with this activity consisted of huge quantities of iron-working slags from smelting and smithing and three fragments from large rotary grindstones for sharpening large bladed items, probably swords (Carver et al 2016, 311ff). An attempt to fit this activity into the political situation in this area, still somewhat a frontier at the beginning of the period, is outlined in Carver et al (2016, 316ff, Case Study Portmahomack). The 100-year gap in evidence coincides with the environmental downturn and plague years.

SiteAreaDatingCommentsRefs
Dornoch Business ParkS1320-1450Possible hearth with fill of ironworking debris and shells. Cultivation soil with finds from the 13th -17th centuriesMHG28197; Coleman & Photos-Jones 2008, 9; OxA-9350
PortmahomackERNumerousMedieval buildings, church, burialsCarver et al 2016; Case Study; Portmahomack
CromartyERAwaiting resultsMedieval burgh site with buildingsMHG51786; Vawdrey nd; Case Study; Medieval Cromarty
Learnie 1A, Black IsleERAwaiting resultsCave midden with hearths. Finds include medieval potteryBirch & Peteranna 2019, 38
Learnie 2B, Black IsleERAwaiting resultsCave midden, re-used after early medieval metalworking. Probable medieval pottery.Birch & Peteranna 2019, 11
Learnie 3B, Black IsleER1038-1210Cave midden. Dating from test pitting: animal bone from deposit under hearthDES 2014, p. 217; Birch & Peteranna 2019, 10 ; SUERC-49928
Broad Cave, Black IsleER1476-1643
1488-1654
Dates from test pitting. Rosemarkie Caves Project; Steven Birch per comm; SUERC-63372; SUERC-63373
Through and Through Cave, Black IsleER986-1153
1035-1205
1327-1445
Dates from test pitting Rosemarkie Caves Project;
Steven Birch per comm; SUERC-61717; SUERC-63379; SUERC-63380
Fortrose & Rosemarkie Waste Water WorksER1168-1266
1271-1391
Multi-period site. Dates are from fill of pit with pottery and sculptural fragmentMHG60801; Fraser 2014; Case Study; Fortrose and Rosemarkie Water Works ; SUERC-51510; SUERC-51488
DingwallER980-1164
1017-1189
1029-1220 1046-1275 1107-1261 1154-1281
Mound near the church. No structures. Possible thing-mound.EHG4165; O’Grady et al 2016; Case Study; The Origins of Dingwall ; SUERC-45298; SUERC-45296; SUERC-45300; SUERC-45297; SUERC-45299; SUERC-45301
Bellfield, North KessockERAwaiting reportGrain drying kilnsMHG53535; Murray 2011, 27
Craig PhadrigIThree dates spanning 1018-1205Re-use of Iron Age hillfort; refurbishment of walls and firepitMHG3809; Peteranna and Birch 2018, 78, 80; SUERC-62800; SUERC-63280; SUERC-62799
Inverness: Castle StreetIArtefacts Burgh buildings and furnaces. Timbers felled in or after late 12th centuryMHG3673; Wordsworth 1982; Mills and Crone 2012
Inverness: Eastgate CentreI1302-1436  Burgh ditch and grain drying kilnMHG36676; Ellis et al 2002
Inverness: Rainings StairsI12th-14th century Wooden wattle structure. Medieval finds, including pottery. Final report awaitedMHG14554; Berdow and McKeggie 2017
Inverness: Friar’s Streeti901-1115 (precision not stated)Occupation burnt layer (no structures). Date from oak charcoal (not roundwood). Finds include 15th century redware candlestick fragmentEHG4584; Peteranna 2014, 49ff; Other work at Friar’s street summarised in Peteranna 2014
Inverness: Church StIArtefacts (pottery)Test pits excavated by Gordon Ewart in 1978MHG3862, Wordsworth 1981, 73
Inverness: Church StIAwaiting resultsMedieval buildings and possibly streets.Awaiting publication. AOC Archaeology excavation 2021
Torvean, InvernessI1320-1410 (precision not stated)Grain drying kiln. Outside of burgh.Peteranna 2019, 14
Loch VaaB&S1055-1260Crannog, built in medieval periodMHG4691; Stratigos and Noble 2019; SUERC-51896
Table 9.3 Settlements and occupation in the southern Highlands (excluding castles) with dating evidence
All dates cal at 95.4% probability. For full details of dates, see Datasheet 2.1

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