Written evidence indicates fishing was a significant part of the medieval economy of Perth and Kinross. Customs records show that the burgh of Perth was a major exporter of salmon. Meanwhile charters and parliamentary legislation confirm the presence of fisheries on the River Tay and River Earn. The importance of fishing rights on the Tay is also evident in a series of disputes between the burgh of Perth and local landowners. These legal records identify specific stretches of the river and might help landscape and archaeological study (M Brown pers comm). However, little trace of medieval fishing has been successfully identified, despite textual evidence suggesting the presence of fish ponds and fish traps, as well as the use of nets. Fish ponds were especially associated with religious houses, and supposedly ‘some marks’ of the Carthusians’ fish ponds were still visible at Perth in the 18th century (Kemp 1887, 251).
The considerable numbers of shells and fish bone uncovered by the Perth High Street excavations confirm fish as a component in the diet of at least some residents. Analysis revealed a preponderance of marine species, such as herring, plaice, haddock and cod (Jones 2011, 56–7). Migratory fish such as salmon and smelt were also present, although exclusively freshwater fish such as pike were absent. A large proportion of the shells discovered at Perth High Street were from oysters and mussels (Heppel et al 2011, 62).
Careful analysis of fish bones and shells can reveal information about species, age, date and provenance. What is more, fish remains often provide insights into past diets, trading patterns and environments. For example, the large numbers of oyster shells discovered at Perth hint at changes in the biodiversity of the Tay estuary, as this species is now locally extinct (C Smith pers comm).
Several medieval iron fish hooks, ranging in length from 25mm to 121mm, were discovered on Perth High Street (Franklin and Goodall 2012, 149). Other types of artefact, such as ceramics, can also provide clues about the medieval fish trade. It has recently been suggested that Shelly-Sandy Ware pottery excavated on Perth High Street, and carbon-dated to the 11th century, may have been associated with the trade in stockfish around the North Sea (D Hall 2013).
It is likely that more detailed analysis of assemblages from old excavations could enhance our understanding of the medieval environment and fishing networks across Perth and Kinross. Care should also be taken in the excavation of new material. It is perhaps worthwhile noting here the differences in assemblages recovered by hand which tend to bias large fish bones and sieved samples which typically include more smaller fish bones and the impact this can have on the identification of types of fish present at a site.
Scottish hunting customs altered over the course of the Middle Ages. Before the 1100s free people appear to have been allowed to hunt over most land. However, from the 12th century onwards there was ‘a privatisation of hunting’ as the monarch and nobility sought to exclude the general population from hunting on their estates and made certain forms of game an elite privilege (D Hall et al 2011, 59). Deer hunting was particularly restricted, and venison is thought to have become a largely royal and aristocratic meat. Notably, very few deer remains were found in the large assemblage of animal bones from Perth High Street (Hodgson et al 2011, 34–35).
Deer management has left its mark upon the landscape of Perth and Kinross. Possible medieval deer parks have been identified at Invermay House (MPK7490), Laighwood (MPK2370), St Martins House (MPK3252) and Buzzart Dykes (MPK3821). Of these, Buzzart Dykes has received the most detailed investigation, and excavation has revealed a building and ceramics radiocarbon dated to the 13th–14th centuries centuries, which may be evidence of a medieval hunting lodge (RCAHMS 1990, 93–4; D. Hall and Malloy 2016; see Buzzart Dykes Case Study).
Because of their elite associations, hunting rights and parks are often documented. While the Buzzart Dykes enclosure has not yet been securely linked to written records, it has been suggested that it could be associated with Glasclune Castle (MPK3754), Drumlochy Castle (MPK3733), or the Forest of Clunie (MPK3954) (D Hall and Malloy 2016, 25). Medieval written records suggest that Perth and Kinross was a popular area for royal hunts and parts of the region were designated as royal forests. Notable royal forests include Alyth, Atholl and Clunie (RCAHMS 1990, 6–9). A combination of documentary research, field survey and analysis of finds from elite residences could significantly enhance our understanding of royal and aristocratic hunting.
Smaller mammals such as hares and foxes were also hunted in medieval Scotland, and wild fowl were caught. Access to these lesser game was not as tightly controlled, although the 15th and 16th centuries did see increasing restrictions on when and how hares and wildfowl could be killed. Analysis of bone assemblages from Perth suggest that lesser game and wildfowl did not make up a large element of the local diet. Bones from some birds now extinct in the region, such as cranes, were found in the Perth High Street excavations, but not in large quantities (Smith and Clarke 2011, 52). It seems likely that a combination of habitat destruction and hunting had already led to the decline of a number of species in medieval Perth and Kinross – something that is perhaps the background to the growing regulation of hunting. Comparison of bone assemblages across periods and locations might develop our understanding of this issue.