3.5 Craft and Industry: Multiperiod Factors

An understanding of the underlying geology is important for assessing sources of raw materials used in Highland craft and technology over the ages. The availability of raw materials may also have a direct influence on manufacturing, technological and stylistic development. Even when sources are identified, little attention has been paid to dating of extraction. For example, the issue of whether Highland copper was used in the Bronze Age is only one example of an area needing further work (see Chapter 6.5). Were Neolithic carved stone balls and axe heads largely made from local stone? Were steatite objects made from local or imported sources? How long were quarries in use?

Some work has been undertaken to look at clay sources for pottery, moulds and building daub, for example on material from Bellfield, North Kessock in Easter Ross (Clark et al 2017). Do sources of clay change over the years? Some sources became depleted, providing an additional complication in researching use.

Many craft technologies required fuel, and there is certainly scope in the Highlands to research choices, and if wood, whether certain species were being chosen over others. For example, the Fire in the Hole project by Scott Timpany is looking at the charcoal from the important Iron Age site of Culduthel to see if there was preferential use and evidence of woodland management to maintain the large amount of charcoal needed. Similarly, charcoal burning platforms have great potential for shedding light on species targeted, on a process which spans a number of periods.

The process of craft in the Highlands, Northern and Western Isles has been a significant focus by ethnologists (eg Grant 1924; 1961; Fenton 1987; Smith 2012). In the Highland region there is significant evidence for how such activities were undertaken in travellers’ accounts from the 18th century and earlier (see Chapter 10). Traditional skills for both domestic use and wider industrial applications are in themselves a form of intangible cultural heritage, with good potential in the Highlands for further research linking chronological periods, regional differences, oral traditions and experimental archaeology. They also offer opportunities to use such knowledge in a variety of ways, including tourism, employment opportunities or even renovation.

Experimental casting of a Bronze Age sword. ©Susan Kruse

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