Early peoples at Culbin
People have lived at and off Culbin for thousands of years. The evidence for this is many archaeological finds of items dating back to prehistoric (Mesolithic and Neolithic) times, plus later material.
Culbin finds are especially difficult to date accurately due to the shifting sands. In a normal archaeological site you can rely on the layers of history appearing in reverse chronological order as you dig: not so at Culbin, where the sand may erode away layers and jumble everything up together.
Why would early hunter-gatherer tribes have come to Culbin?
For the same reasons as we do today – the coastline, the wildlife – but with very different motives: food and shelter. Before farming, tribes would travel from food supply to food supply, possibly using primitive boats and rafts along the coasts and rivers. Game, including seals and otters, would be hunted for meat and skins, fish and shellfish caught, and berries and edible roots gathered.
The shell middens – evidence of early habitation
Simple mounds of shells: while many of the shell middens found here are mediaeval, the oldest date from around 3500 BC. It is believed that early peoples would have used this coast in the Winter when food elsewhere was in short supply, heading inland in the Summer.
The shell middens and potstone finds show that the coastline was further inland and the mouth of the river Findhorn was much further west than it is today.
What can we learn from the shell middens?
We know from the presence of oysters in the shell middens that 3,500 years ago the estuary here was muddier and the climate a little warmer than today. The Findhorn met the sea further west than at present and would have been a source of rich sediments washed down the river, creating a source of nutrients for both fish at sea and plants growing along the riverbank as its course shifted through time.
Certainly there are now no oysters for the inaptly-named oystercatchers on the Moray Firth, but from the shell middens we know that early diets did include winkles, cockles, mussels and razor clams, all of which are still found here today.
Several shell middens at Culbin have the remains of a hearth in their centre, showing that the shells were probably not eaten raw.
For more details of the excavation of a Culbin midden visit the Archaeology Data Service.
Is there any evidence of later habitation?
Archaeologists have found arrowheads, bronze ornaments and evidence of ironworking here, plus very early coins.
From the works of his enthusiastic son-in-law Tacitus, we know it is possible that Agricola, Roman governor of Britain, marched from victory over massed local tribes at the battle of Mons Graupius (believed to be in the area of Bennachie) along this coast to Inverness in circa 84AD, doubtless recruiting auxiliary troops and trading or plundering farmland as he travelled through inland Moray.
It is assumed that this is as far north as the Romans came as their lines of communication with Rome were over-extended, and their presence in this area declined after this date.
Roman ships may also have circumnavigated the coast from here, starting from an unknown point along the Moray coast at a port described by Tacitus.
What about early owners of Culbin?
The first recorded owner was Richard de Moravia (of Moray) in about 1240, brother of the Bishop of Caithness.
The de Moravias were a family of huge political and religious clout in early Scotland and we have their name to thank for the district today.
Culbin was one of many estates until a female de Moravia heiress named Egidia Murray married into the Kinnaird family in the early part of the 15th century. The Kinnairds then owned the land right up to the bitter end when the sands finally overwhelmed the estate in 1694.