9.2.3 Bird Bones

Over 1,000 bird bones were recovered from the 1994 excavations. Bird bones from the 1980-1 excavation are reported in Section 9.1. Domestic fowl bones dominate the assemblage throughout. Other species are few but include several not previously recorded from Aberdeen; geese, ducks, grouse and waders are the most frequent. Much of the material was recovered from the 15th-century deposits associated with the West Range in Trenches A and B. Few bones were recovered for any period from contexts associated with the church. As relatively little material was recovered from late post-medieval and more recent contexts the assemblage has been analysed primarily as a medieval/early post-medieval deposit. A summary of the species distribution is given in Table 65 for the West Range trenches, the 1994 excavation, and the Church trench.

Domestic fowl

Over 60% of the bones identified to species are of domestic fowl. A further group of fragments have been classed as fowl/grouse, as some bones and fragments are difficult to separate and both red and black grouse are present. The number of bones of these species is, however, small and most of the indeterminate fragments are likely to be of fowl. Several of the unidentified bone fragments may also be of fowl based on their size.

The anatomical distribution is uneven and biased in favour of the largest and the most sturdy bones. Many of the smallest elements were probably missed by hand collection but the head and foot bones are almost entirely absent even from sieved samples. The tarsometatarsus is also slightly under-represented although this is a relatively large bone and easily recognised. The sternum, synsacrum and os coxa are frequent but not as common as the limb bones (Table 66). This distribution pattern indicates a mixed deposition with some remains of whole birds, but mainly of trimmed carcasses with the heads and feet deposited elsewhere.

Butchery marks were observed on 26 fowl bones. These are mostly of three types; disarticulation of the distal tibia from the tarsometatarsus (lending support to the evidence from the anatomical distribution that most birds had had the feet removed), disarticulation of the shoulder joint (proximal scapula and humerus), and various knife marks on the femur, some for meat removal and others made on removing the thigh from the carcass.

Both male and female birds are present, as evidenced by spurred tarsometatarsi and medullary bone. There seem to be two sizes of fowl, but much of this difference can be attributable to normal sexual dimorphism. All of the birds are small by present standards with slightly more variety in later contexts; several are very small, comparable with recent bantams. A summary of the large group from the construction phase of the West Range (Phase 5b) is given in Table 67.

Other birds

After fowl, goose bones are the most frequent of the bird remains at 90 fragments. These are probably domestic, or possibly the ancestral greylag, excepting one bone from Area B phase 5 which is comparable with Brent, a winter visitor to mud flats and salt marsh. Most of the duck bones are of domestic duck or mallard but the earliest occurrence of duck, from Phase 2 is of teal. Two other bones, from Phase 4 and Phase 5b (West Range), are comparable with wigeon. One of the domestic/mallard femora had been broken and subsequently healed with considerable foreshortening. Such an injury may have been of little consequence to a domestic bird but is unlikely to have greatly affected a wild duck either as swimming and flying would still have been possible. Waders are present in several contexts. Most of these are of golden/grey plover, some are of curlew. Other bones are comparable with oyster-catcher, lapwing, redshank, and turnstone/sandpiper but remain as tentative identifications as waders are a large group containing many similar members. Bones positively identified as red grouse number six in two contexts in Phase 4 and Phase 5b of the West Range. Five of the bones from Phase 5b may be of one individual. Black grouse is represented by nine bones, from Phase 5b and Phase 6 of the West Range. At least two individuals are represented by the bones from this context. Other bird bones are few (Table 66). The five gull bones are comparable with black-headed, herring and kittiwake. The corvids are of raven, rook/crow and, from an 18th-century context, jackdaw. This bird has increased its numbers and range since the late 19th century, particularly in Scotland. The four pigeon bones could all be of domestic birds; one is from a 20th-century context. Most of the bones of wild birds come from one of the foundation trenches of the West Range building (AAP), the bone of the razorbill was recovered from feature AAF, the west wall of the West Range.

Unlike the fish there were few bird bones from the area of the Church, as already indicated. Most remains are of domestic fowl. Other remains are two fragments each of goose and pigeon, one bone of a blackbird-sized passerine and a cormorant ulna. This bone is from an 18th-19th century context but may be residual. In the 19th century and up to the 1960s cormorants were considered a pest of inland fisheries and frequently shot (Reid-Henry and Harrison 1988). On the coast they were less persecuted and this may be a natural mortality, or perhaps accidentally caught in a fishing net (Prummel 1994).

Butchery on non-fowl bones was mainly restricted to goose (nine occurrences) but one of the black grouse humeri had been cut, as had a kittiwake coracoid. It is assumed that the great majority of bird bones are food remains with the possible exception of the corvids and sea birds, and even here the cut kittiwake indicates that the bones may all be the result of human activity.

Several of the birds are new to the species list for sites in Aberdeen. These are: Brent goose, wigeon, cormorant, razorbill, black grouse, curlew, plover, other waders, kittiwake, black-headed gull, herring gull (or perhaps lesser black-backed), jackdaw, and blackbird-sized passerine.


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