Jewellery and Dress Accessories from Other Materials

Copper Alloy

Chalcolithic and Bronze Age jewellery and dress accessories were not just made from jet and similar-looking materials. As noted in the Case Study The Migdale Hoard, the sheet-bronze tubular beads, conical mounts and embossed ‘spacer’ found in the Migdale hoard (MHG10007) could well have been sewn on to an item of headgear in a manner similar to the contemporary Early Bronze Age fashion in Bavaria (Coles 1969; Stevenson 1956; Needham et al 1985; Clarke et al 1985, 107, 302–3, fig 4.35). A piece of willow stiffener from one of the beads was dated for the National Museums Scotland project, producing the result 2282–1787 cal BC (Sheridan 2002).

Also present in the Migdale hoard is one incomplete copper alloy basket-shaped ornament, plus a fragment of another, most probably a hair ornament, (shown in Clarke et al 1985, fig 4.35 bottom left). Such items, formerly thought to have been earrings, were most likely worn around bunches of hair, thereby confirming that the Early Bronze Age owner of these objects had hair that was long and thick enough to accommodate such items.


Faience, an early vitreous material, was in use in the Highland Region at least as early as the second quarter of the second millennium BC, as attested by a recent radiocarbon-dated find of a 6-segment bead from Ness Gap, Fortrose (MHG54308; Woodley et al 2020, 24, 31, illus 19; ScARF Bronze Age Sections 2.2 and 5.2). This bead was found in a cinerary urn broadly belonging to the Cordoned Urn tradition (pot V6) along with a burnt copper alloy awl, the burnt remains of its antler handle, burnt lithics, a quartz pebble and the cremated remains of an adult, probably female. The remains were directly dated to 1660–1500 cal BC and indirectly dated, from encrusted organic material in the urn, to 1690–1510 cal BC. Also present in the fill of the pit containing the urn was a calcined bone bead of fusiform shape (ibid, 24, 32, illus 20); this, like the faience bead, had passed through the pyre, having been worn by the deceased during the cremation. A second faience bead is known from Littleferry Links, Golspie; this is a spiral segmented bead (Beck and Stone 1936) and was a stray find. There is an intriguing reference to a ‘necklace of glass beads’ said to have been found in a Cordoned Urn with calcined human remains that was found in a cist at Kinsteary, Nairn (MHG14358), but since the beads were lost, we shall never know whether this would have been another faience find.

Just across the border from the Highland Region several faience beads of varying shapes, including an entire 25-bead necklace of segmented star and quoit-shaped beads (Sheridan and McDonald 2001), have been found in and around Findhorn, including on Culbin Sands, Moray. The know-how to make faience arrived in Britain around or shortly after 2000 BC. This knowledge would have been acquired through contact with metalworkers and faience producers in central Europe which was then shared, across Britain and Ireland (Sheridan and Shortland 2004). A corpus of all the Early Bronze Age faience in northwest Europe is currently being finalised by Alison Sheridan. The distribution, dating and manufacture of British and Irish faience is discussed in detail in Sheridan and Shortland (2004). The association of the Ness Gap bead with a cinerary urn in the Cordoned Urn tradition accords with the pattern of ceramic associations in Scotland and Ireland.

Faience would have been a precious and prestigious possession and, like jewellery of jet and of amber, it may have been accorded special powers and been worn as an amulet (Sheridan and Shortland 2003; 2004). That its production was small-scale and localised has not only been confirmed through analysis, but also is clear from variability in manufacturing technique. The Findhorn necklace beads, for example, were made using seaweed as a fluxing agent, whereas in southern England other plant ashes were used (Sheridan et al 2005). The way in which segments were formed varies. The Littleferry bead was scored in a spiral design, while the marks in the Ness Gap bead were made by making parallel scorings; those in the Findhorn necklace were made by jabbing the bead. In southern England, segmentation was effected by rolling the beads against a grooved former (Sheridan and Shortland 2004).

A line of six faience beads with corroded surfaces
Faience bead from Ness Gap. ©Alison Sheridan


Like jet, amber may have been believed to have magical powers, and it may have been used as an amulet; it is warm to the touch, can float and burn, and is electrostatic. Just one amber bead can, with confidence, be attributed to the period of interest here: a small, perforated amber pebble found in the richly equipped Late Chalcolithic/earliest Bronze Age cist of an adult male at Culduthel, Inverness (MHG3776; NMS X.EQ 846; Clarke et al 1985, 267, fig 4.16; Beck and Shennan 1991, 71, 73, fig 6.1). Amber was not much used during the Chalcolithic period in Britain, and it is likely that the pebble had been collected from the Aberdeenshire coast as amber is known to have been found this far north in Britain (Ross and Sheridan 2013).

One other amber find might belong to the period of interest: one large chunky cylindrical bead that was found ‘in a tumulus in Ross-shire’ was donated by James Drummond in 1849 to what was to become the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMS X.FL 6; Beck and Shennan 1991, 191; note that their reference to a note of its acquisition in Proc Soc Antiq Scot, ‘1890, 64’, is incorrect). Unfortunately, the location of this cairn is unknown, and the bead does not resemble any well dated form.

Fired Clay

At Fortrose and Rosemarkie Waste Water Works (pit F10) three fired clay beads were found, one oblate, two fusiform, all associated with calcined human remains and a copper alloy awl in a Bipartite Urn (MHG60875; Fraser 2014; Sheridan 2014; Case study Fortrose and Rosemarkie WWW). The beads and the awl had passed through the funeral pyre with the deceased. A fragment of calcined human bone from the skull was dated to 1876–1638 cal BC. As with the calcined bone fusiform bead from Ness Gap, Fortrose (MHG54308; Woodley et al 2020, 24–5, illus 20), the fired clay fusiform beads will have been skeuomorphs (ie copies in a different medium) of the prestigious fusiform jet beads as seen in Early Bronze Age spacer-plate necklaces.


A small number of items of jewellery and dress accessories made from bone are known from the Highland Region. The earliest is a fine-ribbed bone ring with a side-loop from the richly furnished Late Chalcolithic/earliest Bronze Age cist grave of an adult male at Culduthel, Inverness (MHG3776; NMS X.EQ 845; Clarke et al 1985, 267, fig 4.16). This grave has been dated to 2282–2028 cal BC. This could have been a belt-ring. Alternatively, given the presence of eight fine barbed and tanged arrowheads in the grave, the ring might have been a fitting for a quiver strap, although a belt fitting seems more likely. There are parallels of ribbed examples in bone from Broomend of Crichie, Aberdeenshire, Clinterty, Aberdeenshire, and Mainsriddle, Dumfries and Galloway; all, like the Culduthel example, are associated with Beakers (Clarke 1970, 360; Stevenson 1957). There is also a series of ‘pulley’ belt rings of jet and jet-like materials known from Scotland and elsewhere in Britain. These were probably also used in the same way as the bone rings, and they are likely to overlap chronologically with the bone examples (ScARF Bronze Age section All these objects attest to the use of belted garments; the use of belts would have helped to keep garments out of the way of a bowstring.

Other kinds of bone dress accessory, such as toggles and pins, have been found associated with urned and un-urned Early Bronze Age deposits of cremated human remains. These would have been fasteners for funerary garments, since they have clearly passed through the pyre. Calcined bone toggles were found among deposits of cremated remains at Seafield West and Raigmore near Inverness (MHG3944; MHG3723; Sheridan 2007a, 177–185, fig 14.11; Case Study Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery) and at Dalmore, Easter Ross (MHG6311; Jolly and Aitken 1879, fig 6). The Seafield West example, a roughly lozenge-shaped perforated bone plate (Cressey and Sheridan 2003, illus 14.2). There was no urn in this deposit of cremated remains of an adult of indeterminate sex (Pit 3); associated short-life species charcoal produced a date of 1750–1510 cal BC. The Raigmore example, also a flat, perforated, lozenge-shaped plate (Simpson 1996a, illus 18), was found in a Cordoned Urn along with the calcined bones of a young child aged two to three or three to four. A sample of the bone was dated to 1740–1520 cal BC. The toggle from Dalmore, Easter Ross, is tubular and ribbed, with two transverse perforations in its side; it was found inside an Encrusted Urn (Cowie 1978, ROS 1), and should theoretically date to between c 2100 BC and c 1900 BC. A calcined antler pin was associated with a deposit of calcined bones of an adult of indeterminate sex at Seafield West (Pit 2; Cressey and Sheridan 2003, illus 14.1). Comparanda for the toggles and pins can be cited from Early Bronze Age graves with cremated remains elsewhere in Britain and Ireland; some examples are shown in Sheridan 2007a (fig 14.11).

A bone fusiform bead found in the fill of a pit containing a Cordoned Urn at Ness Gap, Fortrose (MHG54308; Woodley et al 2020, 24–5, illus 20), would have been a skeuomorph of a jet fusiform bead, like the fusiform fired clay beads from Fortrose and Rosemarkie Waste Water Works (MHG60875; Fraser 2014; Sheridan 2014a; Case Study Fortrose and Rosemarkie WWW). The Ness Gap bead was associated with a segmented faience bead, a copper alloy awl and the calcined remains of its antler handle, burnt lithics and a quartz pebble. The associated calcined human remains were of an adult, probable female.



Case Study: The Migdale Hoard


Case Study: Fortrose and Rosemarkie WWW


Case Study: Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery



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