9.3 Plant and Invertebrate Remains by Allan Hall, John Carrott with Harry Kenward

See Table 68, Table 69, Table 70, Table 71, Table 72, Table 73, Table 74, Table 75, Table 76

In total, 34 samples from 25 contexts were analysed in some way as part of The Environment of Medieval Aberdeen Project funded by The Heritage Lottery Fund. The results are presented in more detail by Hall et al. (2004a, 2004b).

For the most part, the samples from the 1980-1 excavation yielded at assessment only small amounts of charred material, mainly charcoal, though in some cases quantities of burnt and/or unburnt peat were identified. Uncharred peat formed the bulk of the sample from layer J345 in Pit JDH , a large Phase 4 pit under the south wall of the church. Charred peat fragments are thought to have been present in J276 (hearth JDT within church), J320 (layer in stone feature JEC and perhaps also JDA (a sample containing coffin remains, Phase 5b). Indeed, one sample (J274, 'charcoal' from hearth JDT) proved to consist of what was probably largely peat ash.

By contrast, the concretions from Sample J336 from Phase 4 Pit JDH appeared to have formed from faecal material, supported by the presence of moderate numbers of fig, Ficus carica L., seeds and traces of well-preserved Trichuris (whipworm) eggs. Fragments of concreted material from stone feature JEC (J320) also yielded traces of well-preserved Trichuris eggs, indicating a faecal component in this deposit, too. Examination of subsamples from Pit JDO (J269), Pit JCU (J279), stone feature JEC (J314) and lower fill of Phase 4 Pit JDH (J315) for the eggs of intestinal parasites yielded no positive results. No insect remains of any interpretive value were observed in any of the samples examined.

For the samples from the 1994 excavation, preservation of plant remains was also rather limited. Many of the samples were spot finds from Phase 5a pit fill AND (A1138). Apart from some very decayed oak wood, this pit fill yielded material which proved to be very humified peat (with Sphagnum shoots no doubt originating the the peat) and ?peat ash. Humified peat was also abundant in the sample from pit ANO (A878) and present in charred or uncharred form in modest amounts in several other samples.

Phase 2 pit AHD (context A393) seems likely to have been rich in faecal material, probably human (and with Sphagnum perhaps being used as toilet tissue). There were small numbers of poorly-preserved Trichuris eggs. Food remains, included wheat/rye 'bran' and seeds of crowberry (Empetrum), rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.) and linseed (Linum usitatissimum L.) and apple (Malus sylvestris Miller) endocarp ('core') The insects from this deposit indicated foul conditions, with numerous Anotylus complanatus and various less abundant taxa likely to have lived with it. There were also several bean weevils, Bruchus rufimanus Boheman, probably from pulses and passed with faeces; a single granary weevil, Sitophilus granarius (Linnaeus) perhaps entered in the same way.

One of the samples (50) from the sump fill of Phase 9 drain AKV (context A549) perhaps also contained food waste — there were traces of several edible fruit taxa, including fig, apple, blackberry (Rubus fruticosus agg.), raspberry (R. idaeus L.) and strawberry (Fragaria cf. vesca L.); no eggs of intestinal parasites were recorded, however.

The loam layer A342 (probably one of the floors of Room 2 in the West Range) may have contained material originating in turves (if not having actually supported turf in situ) — there were some charred ?heather (Calluna vulgaris (L.) Hull) root/basal twig fragments, sclerotia (resting-bodies) of the soil-dwelling fungus Cenococcum, and charred sedge (Carex) nutlets. Besides burnt peat, there was quite a large component of apparently uncharred silty, peat-like material which might have been uncharred 'mor' humus, a typical component of the uppermost organic layers of a soil developed in heathland.

A trace of faecal material was indicated by a single poorly-preserved trichurid egg in one other deposit, layer A61 (Section 6) (sample A41, though sample A44 from the same deposit lacked eggs but did contain at least three kinds of diatoms, which probably originated in peat, the presence of which was suggested by fragments noted during examination of samples for plant remains). Two other deposits examined for eggs of intestinal parasites yielded no positive results (context A645, sample A24; context A863, sample A13).

Apart from 'natural habitats' species (which were probably imported with peat, turf or cut plant material, or which were background fauna), and the assemblage from what was clearly a deposit containing faeces (context A393), the insect fauna of this site as a whole was rather restricted, with species typically found in rather foul decaying matter, and indications that buildings had a limited range of insects exploiting them. Characteristic 'house fauna' was effectively restricted to the woodworm beetle, Anobium punctatum (Degeer) and the spider beetle Tipnus unicolor (Piller and Mitterpacher), both typical of later medieval urban faunas, where few other beetles may occur with them.


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