7.7 Transport and Movement

Movements of People

With the very limited burial evidence available, there are limited possibilities for isotopic analysis as compared to other periods where this evidence has shed light on whether individuals were raised in the area in which they died. A burial from Balnabruich, Easter Ross, in a short cist, was dated 410–230 cal BC (SUERC-13257), and the individual was local (Carver et al 2016, 73, 75, 84). The evidence from the female buried at High Pasture Cave suggests she may have lived away from Skye or a different part of the island for at least part of her life (Birch et al forthcoming). Details of analysis on burials from Applecross are awaited. With so little data it is not possible to make any conclusions.

Movement of Objects and Raw Material

The movement of objects and ideas in Iron Age Scotland is discussed in National ScARF, where there is evidence for local and long distance movements. In general, the Scottish evidence, as for wider British society, suggests few contacts in the Early Iron Age, but with contact increasing in the 5th to 4th century BC and especially in the Late Iron Age 1st century BC to 1st century AD (ScARF Iron Age section 7.5). Clearly analysis of this requires sites with diagnostic objects (see 7.4.2) and good dating. There is far more evidence for the later Iron Age, and only with more excavation of earlier settlements will archaeologists be able to assess if this lack of movement is the norm in the Highlands. The few dates we have for hillforts (see 7.3) suggest at least some date this early, and further work at these structures might fill in the picture. Crannogs also hold good potential.

In the Highlands, analysis of the Poolewe metalwork hoard, dated to the earliest Iron Age, has shown that new sources of metal were being used to manufacture the copper alloy objects at this time. This shows movement of either ore or metal at this very early period (Knight et al 2021; Case Study Poolewe Hoard).

The Poolewe metalwork hoard laid out on a black background. Consists of 8 pieces including 5 axes ranging from fragmented to well-preserved. 5cm ruler for scale
The Poolewe Hoard. ©National Museums Scotland

Towards the end of the period the presence of Roman artefacts at high status sites throughout the Highlands (Chapter 7.4.3) shows the movement of goods, probably from southern Scotland but they could also have arrived indirectly as well, passing as gift exchange between local sites or even as direct diplomatic gifts. Along with these we find massive metalwork, which shows an ability to source prestigious status-enhancing objects from further south and east (Hunter 2014b).

Exotic materials arrived in the Highlands either as raw materials or finished articles. From Dun Fiadhairt (also known as Dun an Iardhard) broch on Skye an undated amber necklace was found (MHG4827), and amber beads have been found at Keiss broch (MHG28390), Crosskirk broch (MHG39521) and possibly Whitegate broch (MHG1645) in Caithness, as well as Dun Artreck, Skye (MHG5019).

Along with these objects, the knowledge and skills for producing glass objects, enamelling, iron objects and even the technology to make steel, arrived in the Highlands in the Iron Age as they were being practised at Culduthel and at other sites (see 7.5; Case Study Culduthel Iron Age Craftworking Site).

Means of Transport

As with the Bronze Age, there is virtually no evidence of means of transport, on water or land, for the Highlands. However, an exciting find from Culduthel was a linch pin for a chariot, suggesting that Highland chariots may have been used in elite settlements. However, these are likely to be in the lowland areas of the Highlands, as chariots would probably have only been used on relatively flat land. Another example is known from Birnie in Moray (Hatherly and Murray 2021; Hunter 2021). No boats survive dating to this period from the Highlands.

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