7.6.3 Hoards

While hoards occur elsewhere in Scotland, especially as objects placed into boggy areas, the evidence is sparse for the Highlands. In many cases the line between ‘hoards’ and single acts of deposition blurs with continuous deposition into ritual areas, as occurred at High Pasture Cave.

The Poolewe metalwork hoard (MHG7755; Case Study Poolewe Hoard), treated for years as a Late Bronze Age hoard because of Late Bronze Age metalwork types, can now be seen to date to the earliest Iron Age, 801–571 cal BC based on the wooden haft for an axe (SUERC-81222; Knight et al 2021). The hoard was placed in a peat bog.

8 items of metalwork, including 5 axes, laid out on a black background. The finds in conditions varying from fragmented to intact. there is a 5cm ruler for scale.
The Poolewe metalwork hoard. ©National Museums Scotland

Hoards of Roman objects have been found in the Highlands, even if the Romans themselves are unlikely to have buried them. A hoard of silver coins from Belladrum, Inverness-shire (MHG56866), was found by a metal detectorist looking for tent pegs after the music festival held in the fields; the latest coin dating to the mid 2nd century AD.  Subsequent excavations at the site of the Belladrum hoard did not find any Iron Age structures and it appears that the coins had been deposited in what was an earlier prehistoric ritual and farming landscape (Hunter 2014a). Antiquarian accounts of coin hoards from near Nairn (MHG6952), Fort Augustus (MHG2612) and possibly Morrich (Fendom Sands) near Tain (MHG61977), said to have contained Roman silver coins suggest there may be others in the Highlands. However, the tendency for any coins to be attributed by antiquarians to the Romans means this and other finds where the coins no longer survive must be treated with caution.

Wooden kegs with butter (‘bog butter’) have been found at Kyleakin, Skye (MHG5418) and Gleann Geal, Morvern, Lochaber (MHG18481; MHG18482), the earliest evidence of a practice which continues into historic times. The reasons behind burying wooden containers with butter have been much debated, with preservation one theory and ritual deposition another. However, experimental archaeology has shown that bog butter becomes rancid after several months; a ritual aspect is more likely (Earwood 1991, 236–9), and links to other ritual deposits of food-related items such as querns.

Quern stones are unfortunately not diagnostic, but a number have been found on sites with good dating. While clearly a practical artefact, they are also found in contexts such as in building construction, deliberately broken throughout Scotland, for example in the Highlands at Culduthel (MHG49950; Hatherley and Murray 2021) and in caches at High Pasture Cave (MHG32043; Birch et al forthcoming); both these instances suggest a symbolic use as well.


Case Study: Poolewe Hoard

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