The 2010 Season

Recording the possible chapel of the fourteenth-century

bishops’ palace (Photograph © SEPP).

The sixteenth and final excavation season took place at Fetternear, part of a project designed to investigate the role of bishops’ palaces in medieval Scotland and their architectural development. The summer palace of the bishops of Aberdeen at Fetternear was largely surrounded by a moat. This season’s excavation found more evidence for the moat and for dismantled timber structures which seem to have preceded the development of the site as a masonry castle.

The removal of a baulk across the moat close to its SE terminus provided further evidence for posts and postholes belonging to structures mentioned in the 2007 report. During further excavation of the north-south trending arm of the moat on the east of the site, a 1.94 m long wooden beam was uncovered. It is a complex piece provided with dowel holes and it lay where the moat stepped down at the outer edge.

The moat was made narrower after the mid-14th century by the construction of a masonry wall which runs N-S on the inside of the moat (see the report on the 2004 season). This wall seems to have replaced a palisade, evidence for which was detected during the 2006 Season  [pdf - 866k]

on the SW of the site.

The wall butts a clay-bonded masonry structure, the SE and SW corners of which were excavated. This building is bicameral and it contains two chambers of an unequal size, the smaller being at the eastern end. Several complete quarries of medieval window glass suggest that this building had lancet windows. It was also provided with a stone drain, bonded into the lowermost course of the masonry on the downhill (outer) side of the structure. The drain ran in an E-W direction. This building may have served as the chapel of the bishop’s palace, adding to our earlier interpretation in the annual report on the 2003 season.

West of this structure, the basal course of a length of walling was encountered, running E-W. This wall was heavily disturbed. Finds in the deposits overlying this feature included medieval pottery, a slate disc or counter and a jeton. These finds, along with two styli from previous years’ excavation, suggest that this part of the site was where the administration of the bishop’s estate took place. There were also large amounts of animal bone.

S of this feature a series of medieval layers was removed down to natural peat. The earliest contained a high proportion of slate fragments, on top of which were laid horizontal slates which were identified by Prof Allan MacInnes as being from Luss or Inchmarnoch, Bute.

The evidence from this season’s excavation complements our findings from previous seasons when other areas of activity within the palace were encountered. During the 2005 and 2006 seasons [pdf - 866k], the kitchens of the 14th-century palace were located at the SW corner of the site. A substantial wall running E-W, robbed out in the 19th-century excavation (explored in the 1996 season), continues under the present drive leading to the ruined mansion. It may have formed part of the great hall, and medieval pottery sherds, both imported and local wares, along with the animal bones, provide evidence for feasting. The finds from the 2010 season add substantially to this interpretation. This large area separates the service quarters from the administrative area and the probable chapel. Last year an entrance to the palace was discovered with the excavation of the sole plate of a timber trestle bridge at the SE of the site (2009 report).

Finds associated with the post-medieval towerhouse and mansion were also detected amongst rubble dumped in a pit cut into the moat fill at the east of the site. Three chamfered stones of granite were found. They are likely to date from the late 16th century and to have come from a building which formerly stood at right angles to the towerhouse or from the towerhouse itself. A highly weathered finial carved from freestone was also recovered from amongst the dumped rubble.

We wish to thank Mrs C Whittall, Mr J Whittall, Mrs C Fyffe, Mr R Fyffe and Mr D Fyffe for their support and for allowing access to the site.