The 2001 Season

We had our seventh season of excavation at Fetternear in July-August 2001. The outbreak of foot and mouth disease meant that planning for it was made uncertain, because the University of Wales, Lampeter instructed its staff at Easter to cancel all fieldwork. However, we organised a somewhat smaller operation in the event of the situation ameliorating. As a result of the disease not spreading to northern Scotland and in discussion with the owners of the site, we were able to go ahead with our plans for the season.

The north field at Fetternear. 
Photograph: SEPP

The north field at Fetternear.  Photograph: © SEPP

In 1999 we reported that resistivity surveys revealed a series of anomalies in the field immediately to the north of the mansion. This year, our team's efforts concentrated on cleaning and excavating a series of machine dug trenches in the north field, as well as extending Trench L, which was hand dug in 2000. Evidence for plough furrows was detected in Trenches N and P. These furrows are not parallel with the existing field boundaries and must predate the early nineteenth century. We hoped to find evidence for the medieval period. Despite the fact that the deposits in these trenches have been subject to invasive ploughing in recent times, we have found eroded sherds of twelfth century AD pottery in the plough soil of the north field. To date, the main area excavation in front of the mansion has produced pottery that dates back to the thirteenth century. Documentary evidence indicates that the Bishops of Aberdeen held lands at Fetternear from at least the twelfth century.

However, the furrows in Trenches N and P seem to cut features that perhaps are prehistoric in date. Two small areas of pebbles were located within Trench N, one of which seemed to be associated with a small burnt area of subsoil. Two fragments of prehistoric pottery were recovered from this trench, and two flints were present in the top fill of a possible pit in Trench P.

Trench U, Fetternear. Photograph: SEPP 

Trench U, Fetternear. Photograph: © SEPP

Trench U, measuring c 15.50 m by 1.40 m, is aligned approximately N-S and cuts across a field boundary indicated on the 1838 estate map of Fetternear. It consists of deep topsoil that overlies natural orange gravel, sand and clay, into which a series of four postholes were cut, as well as a feature that was interpreted as a post-check. Within the central area of the trench, a depression c 2.80 m long NW-SE contained quantities of burnt material, at least twelve lenses of fragmented charcoal, and the burnt remains of more substantial timbers. A stone alignment running approximately NW-SE formed a constructional part of the feature; it is tentatively identified as the remains of a drain or, more probably, part of a flue or rake-out associated with an oven or kiln. Areas of laid pebbles were found N, S and W of this feature.

Finds from Trench U include Bronze Age pottery sherds, worked and waste chert and flint. One of the lithics was encountered in a posthole. Further to the north in Trench U a deposit containing fragments of burnt bone was detected immediately above another area of packed pebbles. Some of the slight features and finds from Trenches N and P appear to compare closely with those from Trench U, and it is possible that the prehistoric settlement was once more extensive.

Trench U is located adjacent to the highest ground above the site of the bishop's palace. In our 2000 report, we mentioned that the Bishops' Palace was built on the sloping terrain closer to the burn, which gives its Fetter- place name to the site. Hence the bishop's palace was constructed on clays and wet sands, rather than on the firm natural rock into which the Bronze Age structure was cut.

This autumn, local volunteers have been conducting a detailed contour survey of the north field to complement the resistivity surveys and to map properly the terrain that surrounds the bishop's palace. We are therefore gradually gaining a thorough knowledge of the landscape in which it was sited. Furthering our understanding of the landscaping of the site at different periods of time is one of our objectives for the project. (See P.Z. Dransart and N.Q. Bogdan Fetternear 1995, published Lampeter 1996, p. 18.)

This year William Lindsay became one of the members of the supervisory team. He is very experienced in Scottish medieval archaeology and will help us prepare the post-excavation report on the pottery. We had a welcome visit from George Haggarty, a leading expert on Scottish pottery who looked through the Fetternear pottery and confirmed the dating of the twelfth-century sherds from the north field.

In spite of foot and mouth disease hampering us from organising as big a programme as in the 2000 season, we feel that we made solid progress in our seventh season. We have furthered our understanding of the Fetternear landscape and have made progress working on the finds from the site. As yet we still have to locate the source of the twelfth century pottery.

The project directors 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.


Deeside Field Club, The Hunter Archaeological Trust, Brownington Foundation, Mrs Betty Dransart, Mr W. and Mrs I. Strachan, the Scottish Castle Survey.