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Investigating Scotland’s Early Whale Fishing Industry


Members of Wessex Archaeology's Coastal & Marine team, from our Edinburgh office, have been working with the Scottish Fisheries Museum to investigate Scotland’s early whale fishing industry and associated maritime heritage from the 18th century.
The project has focused on investigating two key sites on Scotland’s historic eastern seaboard; the mid-18th century whaling store, which is part of the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther, Fife and the late 18th century Montrose Rope & Sail works in Montrose Angus.
The Whaling Store is the original premises of the short-lived Anstruther Whale Fishing Company, established in 1756 and disbanded in 1762. The Whaling Store building was marked by a carved sandstone block depicting a three-masted brig, of the type typically used for early Arctic whaling in pursuit of Greenland Right whales. The carved stone is currently being conserved and we took the opportunity to record it using photogrammetry to investigate the worn surface details.. 


The Montrose Rope & Sail works is a rarely surviving and very well-preserved example of an 18th and 19th century ropewalk; indeed many of the pieces of machinery and features survive inside the building. The buildings preserve whalebone elements used to support the rope fibres as they were being twisted into rope. Other key features of the rope making process are preserved outside the main ropewalk including the structures used to prepare the rope fibres. This includes a rare surviving example of a tar house, possibly the only remaining one in Scotland. Fibres were treated with hot tar in the cauldron and pulled out through the sluice and over a courtyard to the main ropewalk for weaving. The structure has been recorded using multi-image photogrammetry. In this image elements of the roof structure and supporting beams have been removed from the point cloud model to highlight the internal workings of the tar house.


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