6.7.3 Means of Transport

In terms of the actual means of transport, there is no surviving evidence from the Highland Region. No log boats dating to the period in question have been discovered in the Highland Region, though similar examples, such as the Late Bronze Age Carpow log boat from the River Tay, have been found just south of the Highlands (Mowat 1996). However, one of the graves from the Early Bronze Age cemetery at Seafield West is a log coffin in the shape of a boat (Cressey and Sheridan 2003; Case Study Seafield West Bronze Age Cemetery), indicating that the technology and tools were available in the region to make log boats.

Too much emphasis has arguably been placed on water transport even though it will have been essential for the transportation of Irish metal to northeast Scotland. Much Bronze Age settlement in the Highlands occurs away from rivers, so overland movement must have taken place.

The wooden disc wheels found at Blair Drummond, Perth and Kinross, of which the surviving example has been dated to 1255–815 cal BC (Sheridan 2002; ScARF Bronze Age section 3.6), show that wheeled transport was in existence by the late second millennium BC in Scotland. How common or useful it would have been in much of the Highland Region with its difficult topography, however, is a matter of conjecture. By the Middle Bronze Age, domesticated horse was present in the Region, as shown by the dated horsehair hat from Kirtomy in Sutherland (MHG60588; Sheridan et al 2014). It is not known whether horses were ridden but evidence for Late Bronze Age horse and wagon equipment, such as the discovery of the Peebles hoard in the Scottish Borders (Freeman and Knight 2021), is increasingly known from Scotland, suggesting that horses were used for traction of wheeled vehicles. A possible harness ring in the Poolewe hoard (MHG7755; Case Study The Poolewe Hoard; Knight et al 2021) may attest to this as well.

If archaeologists are looking for a driving factor for the use of overland routes, then we could usefully look at food production. Most excavated sites that produced burnt grain have lacked much chaff. Although tillage certainly occurred on a considerable scale, the absence of hard evidence for local cereal production at some sites points to the possibility that during the Bronze Age, agricultural specialisation developed and with that the transport of agricultural products, such as processed grain, occurred. Researchers should start to take seriously the possibility that routeways that had been long established were maintained in the Bronze Age. There is a need to develop fieldwork practices that can prospect for these routeways and then establish their date(s) of use. Locations that might respond to prospection are peat basins that block a natural routeway or places where linear erosion scars might be preserved under later sediments.

Given that neither humans nor cattle benefit from closed gene pools, one might presume that, in general, Bronze Age peoples had some means of crossing social boundaries in order to expand their gene pools. In more recent times this was achieved through markets and trysting fairs. These, and places of miraculous intercession, such as Clouty trees, have no known deep prehistoric associations. There remains the possibility that such features did occur within the Chalcolithic and Bronze Age landscapes and that they were features that people moved through seasonally. The possibility that coastal production sites were also exchange and meeting places in the Highlands has already been mentioned (Bradley 2011, 175ff), and there may have been others.

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