6.4.3.6 Organics

Although organic materials were surely used for many of the objects in daily life, little survives, and much of what we have comes from modern excavations with good post excavation strategies, although there are some spectacular older finds.

The well-preserved contents of a cist at Langwell, Strath Oykel, included a cattle hide that was wrapped around the deceased, woven material and possibly basketry. Unfortunately, the grave was emptied by police before its contents could be examined by archaeologists, such that much was destroyed (Lelong 2014; Case Study Langwell Cist Burial). At another cist in Sutherland at Spinningdale, a middle-aged female appears to have lain on or been wrapped in sheepskin or wool (MHG55420; Lelong 2014). A band of plaited hair or fibre from a cist near Grantown on Spey is in the National Museums Scotland collection (X.EQ 250), but no analysis or dating has been undertaken on it and unspecified organic material was included in a cist at Dridgag Cottage, Edderton (MHG86550).

Archaeologists have very little idea of what clothing people wore, although the set of six V-perforated buttons in the Early Bronze Age Migdale Hoard (Case study The Migdale Hoard) may well have belonged to a male’s jacket by analogy with sets of such buttons found elsewhere in association with male remains in graves as at Rameldry Farm, Fife (Baker et al 2003; Chapter 6.4.3.2).The bone belt ring from the cist burial of an adult male at Culduthel (MHG3776; NMS X. EQ 845; Clarke et al 1985, 267, fig 4.16) indicates that that individual buried there had worn belted clothing.

The remains of the horsehair ‘boater’-type hat found during peat-digging at Kirtomy, Sutherland (MHG60588) during the 1960s, subsequently dated to 1127–931 cal BC, is unique and of international significance. Along with a composite object of unknown function found at Shulishader on the Isle of Lewis, this item constitutes the earliest evidence for the presence of domestic horse in Britain and Ireland (Sheridan et al 2014). The object was made by binding bundles of horse tail hair together to make a hat with a low, flat crown and a flat rim. An attempt to obtain DNA data from a sample sadly did not succeed, as too little of the DNA survived.

Work by Gabra-Sanders (et al 2003) on identifying the structure and composition of a dagger scabbard found in a log coffin at Seafield West near Inverness is a good example of the benefits of scientific analysis on ephemeral remains (Case Study Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery). This item was found to be made from a thin lath of oak with an outer layer of animal skin, possibly cattle; these were stitched together with animal fibre, probably sinew. The log coffin in which it had been buried, like the plank ‘cist’ adjacent to it, survived only as stains in the ground (Cressey and Sheridan 2003).

Very occasionally, remains of wooden hafts survive with metalwork allowing for radiocarbon dating. A haft fragment from a Late Bronze Age socketed axehead found at Kerrow Farm, Cannich (MHG17523), was dated to 1390–1010 cal BC as part of an National Museums Scotland programme of dating hafts and shafts during the 1990s (Needham et al 1997; Clark et al 2017, no. 107). Another haft fragment from a socketed axehead found in Poolewe produced two radiocarbon dates within the first half of the eighth century BC – that is, the very beginning of the Iron Age (Knight et al 2021; Case Study Poolewe Hoard). No complete haft has been found in the Highland Region.

Bone and antler must also have been used throughout the Bronze Age for a variety of tools and personal dress, both in daily life and death, but poor preservation means that they rarely survive. As noted above, calcined bone toggles were found among deposits of cremated remains from Seafield West (Cressey and Sheridan 2003, illus 14.2), Raigmore, near Inverness (Simpson 1996a, illus 18), and from Dalmore, Easter Ross (Jolly and Aitken 1879, fig 6). These items probably fastened a funerary garment. An antler pin, associated with cremated remains at Seafield West (Cressey and Sheridan 2003, illus 14.1, Pit 2) would also have been used to fasten a funerary garment; like the toggles, it had passed through the funeral pyre. Bone tools found at the multiperiod rock shelter of An Corran on Skye have also been dated to the Early Bronze Age (Saville et al 2012; Case Study An Corran). More bone material survives in Iron Age contexts in the Highland Region, in part due to more excavated settlement sites.


 

Case Study: Langwell Cist Burial

Case Study: The Migdale Hoard

Case Study: Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery

Case Study: Poolewe Hoard

Case Study: An Corran

Leave a Reply