Evidence of Daily Life

Evidence of leisure activities include finds of playing pieces. Decorated bone counters are diagnostic, with some deriving from excavated sites, for example at Urquhart Castle (MHG3265; Samson 1982, 474–5; Hall 2011, 155–6. Other playing pieces have been dated to this period on stylistic grounds, including a tableman from Dalcross near Inverness (MHG14266; Hall 2011, 155). In the Norse world distinctive wooden and bone or ivory chess pieces have been found, the most famous in Scotland being the Lewis Chess set (ScARF Medieval section 5.5). From Loch Chaluim Chille, Skye (MHG5784) ivory chess pieces were found during the draining of the loch. They are likely to fit into this tradition. A playing piece carved from cetacean bone decorated with interlace was found in a cave with good midden deposits at Bagh Na H-Uamha, Rùm (MHG3983; Glenn 2003, 185), and is thought from stylistic grounds to be medieval.

Circular whalebone piece with an intricate carving
15th-16th century whalebone playing piece found in a cave on the island of Rum in the West Highlands. ©National Museums Scotland

For the elite, hunting was likely to have been a regular activity (RARFA medieval section 9.6; Oram forthcoming b). There is little archaeological evidence, however, to reflect this, although metal detecting has resulted in the discovery of a number of harness pendants and other horse gear. On Rùm and Jura dry stone dykes have been built to aid the trapping and hunting of deer (Dixon and Gilbert in press a), and some may exist in the Highlands as well. Drystone dykes associated with a deep gulley at high altitude on Sgurr nan Saighead in the Five Sisters of Kintail, for example, appear to be the remains of an elrig or deer-trap (R. Oram pers comm). While crannogs have been suggested as hunting lodges by Stratigos, other types of temporary or permanent buildings were built elsewhere in Scotland for hunting such as the lodge built for James V at Lunkartis in the forest of Atholl (Dixon and Gilbert in press b) or the primary phase hall house at Kindrochit Castle in Braemar.

Copper alloy pendant from a horse harness, found on the presumed site of the fairs held in the royal burgh of Cromarty. ©Cromarty Courthouse Museum

Music is represented by a tuning peg probably for a harp from Cromarty (Vawdrey nd, 34). A graveslab from St Comgan’s chapel, Glendale, Skye depicts a harper, along with a bishop, chalice, claymore and foliage (MHG42024; Gifford 1992, 34).

standing graveslab
Medieval graveslab, St Comgan’s Chapel, Glendale, Skye. ©HES

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