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Mesolithic Shell Middens

 Image copyright AOC Archaeology

Significant Mesolithic evidence has been found at Tarradale. Eight shell midden sites, comprising spreads of marine molluscs, were recorded by the project team at locations found along the top and base of the landscape’s raised beach shoreline to the east and west of Tarradale House. The raised beach represents a former shoreline that now appears further inland due to sea level changes associated with isostatic rebound after the last ice age. Project volunteers undertook augering at the sites to reveal that the shell midden layers survived below the plough soil.

One shell midden site 500m to the west of Tarradale House contained a denser spread of shell. Test pits in the area were previously excavated by project volunteers, revealing that a shell midden layer survives in this location, deepening towards the downslope (SW) side. Analysis of the shell layer showed that mussels and periwinkles predominated the assemblage. Charcoal and antler samples were also recovered from these test pits, and radiocarbon dates obtained from two of the antler and charcoal samples provided dates of 6500 and 6100 BCE.

A second shell midden site was investigated at the base of the possible castle site terrace located to the east side of Tarradale House. A shell midden layer was uncovered at 9m OD above a gravel/cobble layer along the former shore. The small trench evaluation recovered one lithic within the marine mollusc shell midden, which also contained an antler tine, butchered animal bone and fish bones of pollock/saithe, herring and flatfish, although some of this material may have mixed in from later deposits.

The project team also recovered significant quantities of flint, quartz, and chert debitage, including struck flakes and microliths, during several years of field-walking across the ploughed fields in the landscape surrounding Tarradale House. The majority of the lithics comprise flint, most of which appears to represent Mesolithic flakes, scrapers and cores on the basis of the small size (less than 50mm) and there may be some bloodstone present in the assemblage. Particular concentrations seem to be associated with the locations of the shell middens.

In 2017 the Tarradale Through Time project opened trenches and test pits in three different areas in order to evaluate and analyse potential Mesolithic deposits and features. The results from this excavation are now being evaluated and will be posted in due course - see our photo gallery and blog for more information. Pictures of the antler tools found can be seen here.

Above: Mesolithic Life as imagined by Dominic Andrews. Below: Illustration by Pat Haynes for Tarradale Through Time.

Text adapted from Project Design by Mary Peteranna and Steve Birch.