3.6 Religion and Ritual: Multiperiod Factors

Cremation also requires fuel, though for most early excavations this information is lost. There is scope to see if different periods or regions preferentially chose certain species. At Ness Gap on the Black Isle almost all cremation burials used oak, suggesting that this was preferred, because there was evidence of use of other wood at the site (Woodley et al 2020, 30). Only detailed investigations will be able to tease out these details in other areas.

Certain areas in the landscape were chosen as special. The reasons behind placement of churches and chapels are often not recorded, but more work could be done on this topic as has been undertaken elsewhere. Much has been written about the world-view of Gaels in the post-medieval period, particularly as it relates to religion and ritual (see eg Black 2005; MacInnes, 2006a; 2006b; Newton 2006; 2009). Some prehistoric ritual sites needed to be situated near natural features, such as marshy areas where deposition of objects occurred, for example at Ballachulish (MHG4306; Case Study Ballachulish Figure) or Dail na Caraidh (MHG4183; Case Study Dail na Caraidh Hoard). Caves were clearly the focus of ritual activities (Armit and Büster 2020, 247ff), including High Pasture Cave on Skye (MHG32043; Case Study High Pasture Cave) and Rosemarkie Caves (Case Study Rosemarkie Caves Project) on the Black Isle (Birch nd). Other deposits might be placed near topographic features, such as bronze axes placed near boulders near Aviemore (Cowie 2004). Some sites had a long, multiperiod focus such as holy wells which occur throughout the Highlands, though little dating has been undertaken (Map 3.1; Datasheet 3.1).

Map 3.1 Distribution of possible Holy Wells in the Highlands (new updated interactive map coming soon)

Further research could be undertaken on the sites chosen for chambered cairns, Bronze Age burials and cemeteries and early medieval period cemeteries, and their relationship to settlement. The recent work around Inverness in the last decades is providing useful data to address some of these issues.

In many cases the role of the landscape in ritual activities can only be guessed at. Were certain trees special? Were natural stones or wood adorned or carved in special ways? Folklore suggests this might be the case, but finding archaeological evidence is difficult. Gaelic oral tradition and literature are obvious sources to be explored in these regards.


Case Study: Ballachulish Figure


Case Study: Dail na Caraidh Hoard


Case Study: High Pasture Cave

Case Study: Rosemarkie Caves Project



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