Fish and marine shells
Analysed by Ruby Cerron-Carrasco
Fish bones from the excavation show the importance of the sea to the inhabitants’ daily diet. Structure 1 contained mainly bones from young saithe, which would have been caught in the shallows and rock pools along the beach. Immature saithe were also found in the other parts of the site, as well as the bones of cod, ling, plaice, herring, shark/skate and salmon. Some of the cod and ling were very large, measuring up to two metres long, and these must have been caught in deeper waters using boats. Fish might have been cooked and eaten fresh or dried for later consumption.
Marine shells were found in many of the occupation layers and midden deposits from the site. They probably made up a significant part of people’s diets, although they could also have been used as bait. Limpets made up the majority; most of the limpet shells were relatively flat, suggesting they were gathered from exposed stretches of shoreline where their shape would have protected them from violent waves.
Limpets, periwinkles, whelks and mussels would all have been gathered from rocky shorelines like those at the southern end of Sandwick beach. Prickly and common cockles, razor shells, banded carpet shells and the Icelandic cyprine clam would have been gathered from the sandy parts of the beach, while oysters would have come from the shallow waters offshore. Shells were concentrated in the middens that built up outside Structure 5 during its use, and in rake-out from the hearth in Structure 1 – which also contained sea urchins and burnt crab claws. Structure 1 had a limited range of marine shells, while a wider range was found in the other cells in most phases.