10.4.3.4 Wood

Provenanced wooden artefacts are not well represented, in part due to preservation issues, in part due to the small number of archaeological investigations for the period. Before improved transport allowed the movement of cheap industrial pottery, huge amounts of wooden items were in use including for farm implements, household items and furniture, with certain species preferred for certain purposes. Bark could be used for dyes or tanning (Stewart 2003a, 91). Traditional Scottish vessels such as bickers, luggies, coggies and quaichs were made, some carved from solid wood but the majority stave made. Travellers sold handmade wooden ware round the countryside.

Certain regional styles of woodworking can be discerned, especially for furniture (Noble 1988; 1993; Cotton 2008), for example, Sutherland chairs (examples at Historylinks, Dunrobin Castle and Timespan museums). Crofting furniture said to be from Skye is preserved at the Museums of the Isles, Armadale Castle. Built in box beds and other items of vernacular furniture can still occasionally be found in some abandoned buildings.

17th century wooden chair from Sutherland. ©Anne MacInnes

Boat building was a craft undertaken in a number of coastal areas (see eg Scottish Built Ships website https://www.clydeships.co.uk/ accessed November 2020).  Many of these areas were without major sources of wood, and further work on provenanced ships would be interesting in identifying raw materials. Dendrochronology holds great potential here, able not only to provide dating but also the source of wood. For example, a shipwreck off Galmisdale Point, Eigg (MHG30701) was constructed of eastern North American oak, probably from New England, evidence of little-documented import of timber from this region in the late 18th century (Crone 2016).

The herring fishing required large fleets. A number of these were scuttled around World War I or abandoned once steam powered vessels became available. These scuttled remains provide opportunities for further work. For example, 17 wooden vessels (Zulus) which belonged to Embo, Sutherland were recorded by SCAPE as part of their SCHARP project using local volunteers, drawing on documentary research and oral history. Analysis showed that different parts of the vessel were made from different species (Scape 2017).

Leave a Reply