6.6.2 Special Treatment of Objects

Hoards of objects, mainly of elite metalwork, are found across Scotland and are often deposited in wet or conspicuous places in the landscape (ScARF Bronze Age 5.4.1). This is true in the Highlands, where hoards ranging from two through to dozens of objects are known. There are a number of boggy deposition sites, for example from Dail na Caraidh on the Great Glen where metalwork was deposited in at least two events (MHG4183; Barrett and Gourlay 1999; Bradley 2021; Case Study Dail na Caraidh Hoard) and Poolewe (MHG7755; Knight et al 2021; Case Study Poolewe Hoard). A number of single finds have also been found in boggy areas. Two Early Bronze Age axeheads were buried at Knockgranish near Aviemore by a large boulder which must have been a focal landmark (MHG4685; Cowie 2004, 255, 258). Similarly, a Late Bronze Age hoard of tools and ornaments were (possibly) wrapped in cloth and buried under a boulder at Wester Ord, Rosskeen (MHG21937).

The metalwork deposits at Dail na Caraidh are particularly interesting. They are the largest group of flat axeheads as yet found in Scotland (Barrett and Gourlay 1999; Bradley 2021; Case Study Dail na Caraidh Hoard). As Bradley (2021) pointed out, the location would have been striking: a raised area at a confluence of two rivers, from which a spectacular view of the midwinter sunrise behind the Nevis range could be observed. Unusually for metalwork hoards, the findspot’s surroundings were investigated, and dated palaeoenvironmental coring of the peat providing valuable insights into the development of the peat bog and the changes in woodland cover (Barrett and Gourlay 1999).

The reasons behind the deposition of hoards have been much debated, with safekeeping and ritual the two most common. Deposition in watery areas is thought to constitute a ritual act, a votive offering to the gods, as well as an ostentatious expression of wealth, since retrieval is difficult in this situation. Some have also been deliberately broken. In these cases, many of these objects may not have served a purely utilitarian function. Use wear analysis could provide further insights. The deposition of deliberately broken objects, such as some of the Dail na Caraidh axeheads, would also suggest a ritual act; experimental work by Knight (2017; 2019) has demonstrated that breaking a bronze object required heating before it was struck, which represents an investment of resources as well as material knowledge.

Some of the Early Bronze Age axeheads found have a silvery surface, probably a result of specialised manufacturing process (Meeks 1986); this gave them a ‘tinned’ appearance. A preference for ‘tinned’ axeheads has been noted for hoards, again suggesting a choice for special objects in a ritual deposit (ScARF Bronze Age section 5.4.1; Barrett and Gourlay 1999).

Rock Art

While much rock art is likely to have been created prior to the Chalcolithic period, Bradley (2000; 2005) has argued that at least some of the cup-marks on Clava cairns, like those on recumbent stone circles in Aberdeenshire, are likely to have been created when these monuments were constructed late in the third millennium BC.

3D model of a cup-marke decorated stone.
Snapshot of 3D model of rock art at Balnuarin of Clava, Highland. Scotland’s Rock Art Project. ©HES

Rock art is currently the subject of a major project, Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP), which is clarifying the nature and distribution of rock art in Scotland. It was also discussed in the ScARF Future Thinking on Carved Stones in Scotland project, with a number of recommendations made (ScARF FTCSS section 2.1).


Case Study: Dail na Caraidh Hoard


Case Study: Poolewe Hoard

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