1.3 Glossary of Terms

The following is a glossary of terms that have been used in the Highland Archaeological Research Framework. Please let the ScARF team know if there are additional words that would be useful in this glossary.

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AA position: Anti-aircraft position or emplacement. Gun emplacements were used for shooting down aircrafts during wartime.

Anthrosol: Anthropogenic soil; a type of soil that has been formed or heavily modified due to long-term human activity, such as irrigation, addition of organic waste or wet-field cultivation used to create paddy fields. 

Ard: An ancient plough with a simple blade; used to scratch the surface of the soil rather than turn furrows. It could be drawn by animals or man and grooved the ground, but had no mould board or coulter to turn over the soil.

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Bicker: Scottish drinking vessel; beaker.

Burnt Mound: An archaeological feature consisting of a mound of shattered stones and charcoal, normally with an adjacent hearth and trough. The trough could be rock-cut, wood-lined or clay-lined to ensure it was watertight. 

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Cannel coal: Or ‘candle coal’; a type of bituminous coal. Due to its physical morphology and low mineral content cannel coal is considered to be coal, but the texture and composition of the organic matter is known as oil shale. 

Chalcedonic: A translucent to transparent milky or grayish quartz with distinctive microscopic crystals arranged in slender fibers in parallel bands. 

Coggie: 19th century vessel or bowl; may have been used to store liquids such as milk.

Context: The position of an archaeological find in time and space, established by measuring and assessing its association, matrix and provenience. Includes an assessment of how an archaeological find got there and what has happened to it since it was buried in the ground. 

Cruive: Wicker fish trap.

Cruive and yair: Fish trap made of both wicker (cruive) and stone (yair).

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Dioceses: Districts under the pastoral care of a bishop in the Christian Church. 

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E-ware: Jugs, bowls and jars made from a hard, high-fired, granular type of pottery with prominent quartz sand inclusions. Dating between the 6th-7th centuries AD, E-ware originated in western or central France and was distributed across western Britain in the early medieval period.

Ecclesia Scoticana: Scotland’s own diocesan structure. It was run by special councils made up of all the Scottish bishops.

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Ferintosh privilege: In 1690, the Ferintosh estate (Black Isle) became the first legal distillery in Scotland due to a grant by the crown enabling Duncan Forbes of Culloden to distil whisky free of duty on his estate. This so-called ‘privilege’ meant that the lands of Ferintosh experienced a large influx of labour to work in the fields, to clear ground and produce aqua vitae at the distillery. 

Fieldwalking: A group of people walking in straight lines across the field while examining the ground surface for artefacts and features. 

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Girnal: Scottish storehouse for grain.

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Homestead moat: A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water; often surrounds a castle, fortification, building or town, historically to provide the first line of defence. A homestead moat is simply the moat surrounding a lower status, domestic building.

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Isostatic uplift: The process by which land rises out of the sea due to tectonic activity. It occurs when a great weight is removed from the land (eg the melting of an ice cap). 

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Jet: A type of lignite, the lowest rank of coal; a gemstone. Unlike many gemstones, jet is not a mineral, but a mineraloid. It is derived from wood that has changed under extreme pressure. 

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Kailyard: Scots term; literally refers to a small plot of land or kitchen-garden where cabbage (ie kail) and other vegetables may be grown. 

Knapping: The process of creating a tool made from stone using a variety of techniques from striking, flaking and grinding.

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Lipids: The natural fats, waxes and resins produced by living organisms; frequently recovered from archaeological artefacts and burials.

Lithics: Stone which has been used or modified by humans.

Luggie: A small wooden pail or dish with a handle; Scottish vessel.

Lunula: A crescent-shaped Bronze Age ornament worn as a necklace.

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Machair: A fertile low-lying grassy plain found on part of the northwest coastlines of Scotland and Ireland, in particular the Outer Hebrides. The best examples are found on North and South Uist, Harris and Lewis. 

Micro-burin: A typical waste product from the manufacture of lithic tools; characteristic of the Mesolithic period, but has been recorded from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic until the Chalcolithic. 

Middens: A dump for domestic waste which may consist of animal bone, human excrement, botanical material, mollusc shells, potsherds, lithics, and other artefacts associated with past human occupation. Often found associated with domestic evidence.

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Ogham: An ancient alphabetical system used by the Celtic people in Britain and Ireland; consists of straight lines placed perpendicular to, or at an angle to, another long straight line.

Optical stimulated luminescence: A dating technique used to date the last time quartz sediment was exposed to light. As the sediment is relocated by shifting ice, tides or wind, it is exposed to sunlight and any previous luminescence signal is removed. Used especially for dating late quaternary deposits.

Orthostat: Large upstanding stone used in the construction of walls for chambers and passages in many kinds of structures, including Neolithic tombs and early medieval domestic structures. 

Outshot: An extension built onto the side or rear of an existing building. 

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Palstave: A type of early bronze axe, made to fit into a split wooden handle rather than having a socket for the handle. It was common in the middle Bronze Age in northern, western and south-western Europe.

Pennyland: An old Scottish land measurement (Scottish Gaelic: peighinn). It was found in the West Highlands, and also Galloway, and believed to be of Norse origin. It is frequently found in minor placenames.  

Plano-convex knife: Archaeologists know this type of flint tool as a ‘slug knife’ due to its shape. It’s technical name is a plano-convex knife, meaning flat on one side and rounded on the other. The flint has been worked around the edge to create a cutting tool, likely used in the same way as we use knives today. 

Policies (land): The land and buildings associated with an estate. A land policy can be defined as a set of rules and guidelines that govern how a country’s administration will manage and administer land.

Prebend: A stipend furnished by a cathedral or collegiate church to a clergyman (such as a canon) within its chapter. 

P-XRF: Portable X-ray fluorescence; now widely used for detecting the elemental composition of a material. Elemental analysis can enhance archaeological interpretations, including distribution mapping and the identification of anthropogenic activities. 

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Reredo: An ornamental screen which covers the wall at the back of an altar. 

Rip-ard: Or ‘sod buster’; a simple plough without a mouldboard. It has a hooked share that gouges deep into the soil and effectively clears virgin land.

ROC post: Royal Observer Corps Monitoring Posts are underground structures placed all over the United Kingdom. They were constructed as a result of the Corps’ nuclear reporting role, and operated by volunteers during the Cold War (between 1955 and 1991). 

Rove: To plough land into ridges by turning the earth of two furrows together.  

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Sees: see Dioceses 

Sheriffdom: A judicial district in Scotland, led by a sheriff principal. Since 1st January 1975, there have been six sheriffdoms. Each sheriffdom is divided into a series of sheriff court districts, and each sheriff court is presided over by a resident, or floating, sheriff (a legally qualified judge).

Siliceous: Siliceous rocks are sedimentary rocks that have silica as the principal constituent. The most common siliceous rock is chert; other types include diatomite. 

Styca: A small coin minted in pre-Viking Northumbria; originally made from silver and subsequently from copper alloy (pronounced ‘sty-kɑ’). 

Styli/Stylus: A sharpened, wooden implement with a wedge-shaped tip used for making cuneiform inscriptions. Also, a pointed tool used by the Romans for writing on wax tablets. 

Sub rectangular: Having an overall rectangular shape, but with rounded or irregular edges 

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Tacksman: A landholder of intermediate legal and social status in Scottish Highland society; from the Scottish Gaelic ‘Fear-Taic‘, meaning ‘supporting man’ (most common Scots spelling: takisman). 

Terminus ante quem: The latest possible date for an archaeological event or artefact.

Terminus post quem: The earliest possible date for an archaeological event or artefact. 

Thanage: The land held by a thane (a Scottish feudal lord).

Thermohaline circulation: THC is a part of the large-scale oceanic circulation that is driven by global density gradients; created by surface heat and freshwater fluxes. Thermohaline circulation is sometimes referred to as the ocean conveyor belt, great ocean conveyor, or global conveyor belt. 

Thermoluminescence: The property of some materials which have accumulated energy over a long period of becoming luminescent when pre-treated and subjected to high temperatures; used as a means of dating ancient ceramics and other artefacts. 

Thirlage: A feudal servitude (or obligation) under Scots law requiring manorial tenants to have their grain ground at a specified mill.

Timber-laced: Interleaving timber in the construction of buildings and structures. Can be used to secure a roof between the timbers, or in stone foundations (eg Iron Age hillforts).

Tuyeres: A nozzle through which air is forced into a smelter, furnace, or forge. 

Typochronologies: The chronological variation in the type of a class of objects. 

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Vitrified: Vitrification (from Latin vitreum, meaning ‘glass’) is the transformation of a substance into a glass, that is to say, a non-crystalline amorphous solid. Vitrified forts are stone enclosures whose walls have been subjected to vitrification through heat.

Vellum: A fine-grained unsplit lambskin, kidskin, or calfskin prepared especially for writing on or for binding books. 

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Wag: A substantial building form, from the post-broch Iron Age period, featuring pillars or stalls. This building type often incorporates both circular and rectilinear construction. Wags are well known in the archaeological landscape of Caithness and Sutherland. 

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Yair: Fish trap made of stone; sometimes incorporated a wooden structure above, with a curve to trap fish.

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