7.5.2 Organic Materials


The poor preservation of organics at most Highland sites means there is little evidence of woodworking for this period, but there are important survivals (see 7.4, Table 7.10). One of the wooden bowls from Ardgour (MHG287) is important evidence, showing that the use of turning, dated to the first centuries AD (Earwood 1993b). This adds to evidence from Oakbank Crannog in Highland Perthshire (ScARF Iron Age section 4.5). One of the Ardgour bowls was also repaired with a bronze clasp (Earwood 1993b). Most of the wooden objects show evidence of tool marks, providing evidence of manufacture and the tools used. The two bowls from Skye (MHG5036; MHG6718) have similarities in production and may be from the same workshop (Crone 1993; Case Study Bracadale Wooden Bowl). The bog butter kegs from Kyleakin (MHG5418) and Morvern (MG18481; MHG18482) were made by hollowing out trunks or thick branches but have different methods of securing the bottom. Another now-lost bog butter keg from Kilmaluag, Skye (MHG5200), was said to have had a sewn base, but in shape is said to have resembled the Morvern keg (Earwood 1991).

A small axe for woodworking was recovered at Culduthel, Inverness showing that woodworking may have taken place there, even though no wooden objects survived from the site (Hatherley and Murray 2021; Hunter 2021).

Bone and Antler Working

Debris from bone and antler-working is common on sites where the soil conditions favour bone preservation, but there has been no overall synthesis of this material from the Iron Age. In Scotland as a whole, shed antler appears to have been more common than antler from hunted deer, implying a knowledge of deer movements and the natural times for shedding (ScARF Iron Age section 4.4).

In the Highlands, evidence of the production of bone and antler objects appears from brochs and caves such as at Caird’s Cave, near Rosemarkie (MHG8855; Anderson-Whymark 2011, 67ff), the broch at Applecross, Wester Ross (MHG7680; McCullagh 2012), Keiss Harbour and Keiss Road brochs in Caithness (MHG1859; MHG1650; Heald and Jackson 2001, 135), and High Pasture Cave (MHG32043) and Fiscavaig rock shelter on Skye (MHG51768). The presence of offcuts from the caves suggests some caves were being used as workshops, a practice which continues in later periods (see Chapter 8.5).

Tools for bone working were also found at Nybster broch, Caithness (MHG1593; Heald and Cavers 2012, 54; Case Study Nybster broch). It is likely that metal tools would have been used. Experimental boneworking using tools modelled on Viking Age iron tools, showed how labour intensive the process would have been even with iron tools, with a comb taking many hours of work (Kruse 2019).

worked bone and antler artefacts from Caird’s Cave, Rosemarkie. ©National Museums Scotland

Skin and Leather Working

The Redcastle crannog in the Beauly Firth (MHG9112) had the remains of de-haired calf-hide fragments and large quantities of animal bones, particularly cattle, but also sheep/goat, pig, horse and bird, all with signs of butchery. There were no domestic finds, suggesting that this crannog, accessible at low tide for around six hours, might have been used for processing hides (Hale 2000).

At Keiss Harbour broch (MHG1659) and Nybster broch (MHG1593) in Caithness, tools suggesting leather working were found (Heald and Jackson 2001, 139; Heald and Cavers 2012, 54). Leather working is also evidenced at Fiscavaig rock shelter on Skye (MHG51768), which had other craft evidence for textile and metalworking, and at Culduthel which had a range of craft working evidence (Hatherley and Murray 2021). A small curved iron knife from Culduthel is unusual, and it has been interpreted as either for fine leatherworking or possibly surgery (Hunter 2021).

Textile Production

Very little evidence survives from the Highlands of textiles themselves, but there are a number of spindle whorls of various materials and bone/antler weaving combs. Clachtoll broch (MHG13002; Case Study Clachtoll broch) has evidence of the manufacturing of spindle whorls at all stages of production, and wear analysis on well-preserved weaving combs is providing evidence of their use (Graeme Cavers pers comm).

From Keiss Harbour broch (MHG1659) there is a rough out for making a weaving tablet which would have been used to create borders and trims. A less securely dated example was found from a midden near Tain (MHG8709).

An unusual terracotta model of a bale of wool, a Roman object, was found at Dun Fiadhairt (Dun an Iardhard), Skye (MHG6146). The naturalistic model shows the wool bound with a strap, evidence of a stage in creating textiles.

Miniature Roman clay model in the form of a bale of wool that was found at a broch at Dun an Iardhard on Skye (AD 80–200). ©National Museums Scotland


Case Study: Bracadale Wooden Bowl

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