Image of Tarbat Sculpture.Discoveries So Far

St. Colmans Church

Image of Excavation of St Colman's Church.

Excavation of St Colman's Church.

In advance of its conversion into a museum and visitor centre the nave of Tarbat Old Church was excavated. Nearly two hundred individuals were excavated and foundations from earlier churches at Portmahomack were uncovered.

Two phases of early medieval burial were excavated and belong to the monastery at Tarbat. The earliest phase consisted of burials of individuals in stone cists. One of the individuals has been dated by radio-carbon dating and may have died sometime around the mid-sixth century. This date coincides with the life of St Columba who may have founded the monastery at Tarbat. Later the burial rite consisted of stone head-settings or ‘pillow’ burials. This phase has been dated to the eighth to ninth century. It appears that this part of the cemetery may have been external to a church building and that graves in this cemetery were marked with small carved stone crosses that date from the same period. Analysis of these skeletons suggests that elderly males formed the majority of the population suggestive of a monastic community.

Image of cist burial. Image of pillow burial.
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Later in the medieval period, possibly in the 12th century a small rectangular church was built and it is thought that this belongs to the reorganisation and investment in church building brought about by David I. A medieval population used the church for burial during this period. Analysis of the skeletons showed that a normal mix of males, females and children were buried during this period. One individual in particular thought to have died some time in the late fourteenth to early fifteenth century was buried in a pair of leather shoes which survived and were excavated. The shoes were in perfect condition and even contained a pair of socks inside.

Image of shoes.
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In the post-Reformation period Tarbat church went through a number of changes and developments. Burial in the nave of the church was prohibited but wealthy landowners built a separate aisle on the north side of the church to accommodate burial. Some memorials to the individuals buried are still visible in the church today.

Image of memorial.
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Last updated 10 October, 2003.
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