Lithics and Stone Tools

Coarse stone tools including ard points, hammerstones and grinders are clearly valuable in assessing settlement evidence but are not chronologically diagnostic in their own right. In contrast to the Northern Isles (ScARF Bronze Age section 4.3.1), little attention has been paid to the coarse stone tools found in the Highland Region. Information, especially any associated dating evidence, needs to be collated to enable a comparison with tools elsewhere.

Stone saddle querns would have been used for processing grain, but identification of Chalcolithic or Bronze Age examples depends on if they come from dated contexts. Close-Brooks (1983) reviewed finds of saddle querns from the Highland Region and noted their presence as secondary deposits at the Neolithic chamber tombs of Carn Glas and Kilcoy South, Easter Ross (MHG9017, MHG9014); a further example was found on the side of a large round cairn nearby at Kilcoy III. In none of these cases can a Chalcolithic or Bronze Age date be claimed with certainty for the querns. Saddle querns were reused in Iron Age and later contexts as building materials or even, as at High Pasture Cave on Skye, as ritually deposited objects (Case Study High Pasture Cave).

Barbed and tanged arrowheads are a clear diagnostic indicator for the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age (Map 6.5 and Datasheet 6.5). Note that their currency may have extended into the Late Bronze Age to judge from a sub-peat example from Corrydown, Aberdeenshire, that was associated with a fragment of calf hide and radiocarbon dated to 1194–840 cal BC (NMS X.AD 1106; Alison Sheridan pers comm). Some barbed and tanged arrowheads have been found in funerary contexts where they have been deposited as archery equipment in Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age male graves, for example at Armadale, Skye (MHG69879), Dornoch Nursery, Sutherland (MHG11738), and Culduthel, Inverness (MHG3776); in some cases they were deposited along with wristguards (stone bracers). Where the sex of the deceased has been determined, it has been male. Examples were mostly made from flint, chert and quartz, but some found in the western Highlands are of bloodstone from Rum. Sites with large numbers of finds include Littleferry Links, East Sutherland (MHG11663; Bradley et al 2017), Cul na Croise, Lochaber (MHG356), and Culbin Sands (Bradley et al 2017). These are all multiperiod activity sites on sand dunes. The presence of very small barbed and tanged arrowheads among the Culbin Sands examples suggests their possible use for fishing or hunting small mammals. Less documented sites with arrowheads which might also be of the same nature as these coastal sites include Redpoint, Wester Ross (MHG7639), Cuthill Links, Sutherland (MHG25220), and Sanna Bay, Lochaber (MHG14370).

Bronze Age arrowheads from Littleferry Links on display at Dunrobin Museum. ©The Sutherland Dunrobin Trust
Barbed and tanged arrowheads and wrist guard from Dornoch Nursery cist burial (INVMG 1980.015-017 ). ©Michael Sharpe

A local doctor in Easter Ross, William Maclean, collected material in the Dingwall and Black Isle area in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and his collection, donated to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (now National Museums Scotland) after his death, contains a large number of arrowheads (MHG61225); most of them are listed as only from Dingwall or the Black Isle. It is perhaps an indication of what is lacking from other areas where systematic collection and fieldwalking did not take place. Although, as Bradley (et al 2016; 2017) has pointed out, certain places, which he terms ‘maritime havens’, have an unusually high density of finds, and the numbers of arrowheads found on Culbin Sands, for example, are unlikely to be representative of the density of finds elsewhere.

Barbed and tanged arrowheads from the Maclean Collection, recorded as coming from near Dingwall and the Black Isle. Trevor Cowie ©National Museums Scotland

More broadly, lithic technology in the region tends to fall within the overall classification of Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age in date, due to the absence of diagnostic tool types or associated material culture (ScARF Bronze Age section 4.3.2). This classification becomes increasingly unsystematic in the later period, as exemplified by the assemblage at the Urquhart Castle visitor centre (MHG3265; Ballin 2014b). Flakes, scrapers and arrowheads are frequently found in funerary contexts, such as at West Torbreck (MHG56812; Ballin 2014a), and Holm Mains Farm, Inverness (MHG32414; Headland Archaeology 2007). Much of the lithic material in this region derives from unstratified lithic scatters, making it difficult to interpret lithic use within domestic and industrial contexts overall (Ford et al 1984; Edmonds 1995).

Wristguards are a distinctive feature of the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age lithic repertoire. Eight examples have been found in the Highland Region, mostly in funerary contexts; this includes three finds from Skye (Table 6.10 below). All but the most recent find from Drumnadrochit feature in Woodward and Hunter’s (2011) corpus of wristguards in Britain, which describes their shape and petrology. As discussed by Fokkens et al (2008), these are unlikely to have functioned as protecting the wrist from the recoil of a bowstring but rather as ornaments that were attached to actual wristguards of hide; in several instances they have been found on the outside of the wrist of the deceased, lending support to this interpretation. The gold-capped copper rivets on the Culduthel example demonstrate that this item had indeed been riveted to an organic object, and other items will have also been riveted or tied on. The example from Drumnadrochit has grooves on its underside suggesting that it had been tied on; traces of the hide wristguard to which it had been attached survive (Sheridan 2015b).

The idea of using wristguards as an element of a fancy archery kit is one of the novelties introduced to Britain by the immigrant ‘Beaker people’ from the Continent, and the practice of using them continued for several centuries after the middle of the third millennium. The four-holed examples with a curved section are a later development from the continental-style two-holed examples. Wristguards will have been prestigious male possessions and part of an ensemble that emphasised the identity of certain males as archers, especially in death. Wristguards travelled a long distance from the source of the rock from which they were made. Over a dozen examples in Britain (eg Fyrish, Culduthel and Corry Liveras) are of Langdale tuff found in Cumbria. Wristguards may well have been made by specialists. The colour of the wristguards was evidently significant with only a narrow range of coloured rock used and the Drumnadrochit example is made of a greenish rock that was probably chosen to resemble Langdale tuff (Sheridan 2015b). That some were in use for a long time is indicated by the fragmentary examples found at Dalmore, Easter, Ross and Armadale and Corry Liveras, Skye; the fracture surface on the Dalmore example is worn and the Corry Liveras example had been re-bored.

Dornoch NurseryS2460–2200 BCCist with contracted skeleton of adult, sex indeterminate. Associated with All-Over-Cord Beaker, set of five flint barbed and tanged arrowheads, flint strike-a-light and iron ore nodule. Narrow, two holes, fine-grained red stone. IMAG INVMG 1980.19[SA18] MHG11738; Ashmore 1989; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID94; Parker Pearson et al 2019, 70
Dalmore (grave 1), near Alness, Easter RossER Cist with contracted skeleton of adult male. Associated with fine plano-convex flint knife and a necklace(?) comprising 50 disc beads, thought by their finder to be of albertite. Fragment of a four-hole wristguard, abraded at the fracture surface, of a light-coloured, fine-grained stone. Lost. Note: the Dalmore cemetery includes several graves with prestigious grave goodsMHG6311; Jolly and Aitken 1879; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 127
Fyrish, EvantonER2345–2145 BCCist associated with unburnt contracted skeleton of adult male and a Beaker. Four holes. Great Langdale (Group VI rock). NMS X.EQ 133MHG8104; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 78; Parker Pearson et al 2019, 70; Sheridan et al 2018
CulduthelI2280–2020 BCCist associated with unburnt remains of adult male, large Beaker, set of eight barbed and tanged flint arrowheads, bone belt ring, amber bead, flint strike-a-light. Wristguard has four holes. Of Langdale tuff (Group VI rock) with gold-capped copper rivets. NMS X.EQ 844MHG3776; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 79; Case study Culduthel Iron Age Settlement
DrumnadrochitI Grave associated with unburnt remains and a Beaker. Four holes; greenish stone, macroscopically resembling Langdale tuff but with a finely crystalline structure and not from Cumbria.Sheridan 2015b; Peteranna 2015
Armadale (cist 4)Skye Cist with unburnt human remains (mostly decayed). Associated with a Food Vessel and a flint tool. Fragment; will originally have had two holes. Talcose schist, which could conceivably have come from Skye. Now in Museum of the Isles, Armadale, SkyeMHG60879; Sheridan 2011b; Peteranna 2011; Krus and Peteranna 2016; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 159; Case study Armandale Cist Burial
Broadford BaySkye Stray find adjacent to chamber tomb at Corry Liveras; may originally have been deposited in that monument. Two holes. Dark greenish-grey stone. NMS X.AT 3MHG13994; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 88
Corry Liveras, Broadford BaySkye Secondary deposit in Neolithic chamber tomb. Langdale tuff (Group VI rock). Fragment of wristguard, reworked. Four holes. NMS X.AT 4MHG13995; Woodward and Hunter 2011, ID 87
Table 6.10 Wristguards found in the Highland Region
All dates cal BC at 95.4% probability. For full details of dates, see Datasheet 2.1

Stone heads for battle-axes and axe-hammers generally date to the Early Bronze Age (Roe 1966; Fenton 1984). There are a few examples from the Highlands. Four examples are in the NMS collections: Wick Harbour, Caithness (MHG415; NMS X.AH 175), Murraytown, Sutherland (MHG12759; NMS X.AH 239), Ballavoulen (MHG6355; NMS X.AH 249) and Scotsburn, Easter Ross (MHG8635; NMS X.AH 221). There is also a cast of another from a cairn at Breckigoe, Caithness (NMS X.AH 109). All except for the Ballavoulen example are battle-axeheads. A further example from Fiunary, Lochaber, was reported to be in private collection (MHG476). Their function is debated, but recent microwear research by Roy (2019) has identified that both object types are likely to have functioned as utilitarian agricultural tools: for chopping wood, breaking land and as wedges. This does not preclude the likelihood that the finest examples also served as prestige objects, and in general in Britain, these finest examples show the least wear. In Scotland they are concentrated in the southwest (ScRAN dataset 000-100-033-016-C).


Case Study: High Pasture Cave

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