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. 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 would have become 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 with wood, whether certain species were being chosen over others. For example, the Fire in the Hole project run by Scott Timpany is looking at the charcoal from the important Iron Age site of Culduthel to see if there was preferential use of different types of wood 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 within a process which spans a number of periods.

The processes of crafts in the Highlands, along with the Northern and Western Isles has been a significant focus of ethnologists (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 10.1.1). 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 and oral traditions through experimental archaeology. They also offer opportunities to use such knowledge in a variety of ways, including tourism, employment opportunities or even renovation.

Photograph of a man crouching in front of a square, wooden platform with two planks of wood placed on top, parallel to one another. Another man stands to the left of the frame, watching over the process. They are inside a warehouse, with corrugated walls and a dirt floor. A bowl of water, metal tongs and billows can be seen in the background.
Experimental casting of a Bronze Age sword. ©Susan Kruse