7.4.4 Insights into Daily life

With the large number of excavated settlement sites, combined with metal detecting finds in recent years, there is a wealth of material culture which can shed light on daily life. Much of this material, for example stone tools, querns or bone points, is not chronologically diagnostic, so well-dated sites are needed to place them in chronological context. There is also much that can be gleaned by looking at old finds (see for example Heald and Jackson 2001). However, as the National ScARF panel noted, more artefactual analysis of Iron Age objects is needed in general (ScARF Iron Age section 5.9), and this would allow for the Highland finds to be placed in context.

The well preserved remains at Clachtoll broch (MHG13002, Case Study Clachtoll Broch) provide a number of insights into daily life. Fortunately for archaeologists, the inhabitants did not regularly sweep away rubbish, but appear to have simply lain on extra organic materials on the floors. Gradually the floors grew above the hearths, which were then rebuilt to the new level. This material provides a rare insight into organic use and flooring. Even semi-articulated sheep carcasses were left in the floors. Rodent activity, probably contemporary with occupation was identified. Altogether this evidence provides an unhygienic picture, but it is one with great potential for environmental analysis (Graeme Cavers pers comm).

At Clachtoll a range of steatite vessels were found, some well-made and some crudely fashioned. These are often interpreted as lamps, but examination of residues showed that some had held fats including from marine animals and pigs. They may have therefore been used for storing food such as butter. There are even hints of bees wax on some of them, perhaps for sealing (Graeme Cavers pers comm).  The objects from Clachtoll broch were carefully mapped and have been interpreted as displaying different use within areas of the building (see Case Study Clachtoll Broch).

Hints of feasting events at High Pasture Cave survive through the interpretation of the animal bones (Birch et al forthcoming). While no cauldrons were found there, a copper alloy fragment from Loch Gamhna, Badenoch and Strathspey (MHG4424) dates to the Iron Age (Joy 2014), providing evidence of activity in an area where very little is known about the Iron Age period. A bronze cauldron was found at Kyleakin, Skye together with a wooden keg of bog butter (MHG5418). While the find circumstances suggest a ritual deposit (see 7.6), the cauldron may have been used for feasting events before its deposition. The Roman copper alloy vessels found at Helmsdale, Sutherland (MHG10138; Spearman 1990), suggest the existence of elite objects which could have been brought out for impressive dining. A Roman wine dipper was also recently found by a metal detector near Auldearn, Nairnshire. Test pitting and geophysical survey in the area indicate that there is a settlement in the vicinity (MHG48600).

Metal wine dipper from roman era. It has many cracks and holes
Roman wine dipper from Auldearn. Ewen Weatherspoon courtesy of Inverness Museum and Art Gallery

The Iron Age is the earliest period where there is archaeological evidence of leisure activities, in the form of bone and stone playing pieces from Keiss Harbour and Keiss Road brochs (MHG1659); these are seen as a possible legacy of contacts with the Roman world and soldiers (Heald and Jackson 2001, 134; Hall 2016). The wooden bridge for a lyre from High Pasture Cave reminds archaeologists that music was also a part of prehistoric life (Lawson 2019).


Case Study: Clachtoll Broch

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