As in the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, evidence for the production of metalwork is largely unknown in the Middle Bronze Age and there has yet to be a dedicated study of Bronze Age metallurgy in Scotland. Around 1600 BC dirks and rapiers appear in the archaeological record and represent the first metal blades to be produced for no function other than as weapons. This introduction presents a powerful indicator of a society in which conflict was growing, requiring a dedicated means of inflicting harm and defending oneself (Harding 2007), though little skeletal evidence exists of trauma and violence. The emergence of weapons is coupled with the development of looped spearheads and a range of axeheads which dominate the archaeological record and reflect a variety of craftworking functions. Perth and Kinross’s Middle Bronze Age metalworking assemblage is modest, with no hoards or associated finds known, apart from the rapier fragment from Tulloch Field (MPK2854), and this conforms with the general picture across Scotland (Coles 1964). It is during this period that the earliest evidence of metalwork deposition in the River Tay appears, a practice that continued to the end of the Late Bronze Age (Cowie and Hall 2001; 2010).

A Middle Bronze Age dirk recovered from the shore of the River Tay at Friarton near Perth (MPK18072) represents the earliest deposit of metalwork from the river, although Neolithic and Early Bronze Age stone objects are known (Cowie and Hall 2010; Cowie et al 2011). A replica of the Friarton copper-alloy dirk was subjected to experimentation and wear analysis. It represents the first and only experimental use of a dirk in Britain and Ireland. The experiments revealed the weapon to be highly effective against synthetic skeletal material as well as provided key clues into how such objects may be damaged through use (Faulkner-Jones 2016). Compositional analyses of the Friarton dirk and another stylistically similar dirk from Pitcaithly (MPK5156) has indicated that both were produced from Irish metal or were Irish in origin (Cowie et al 2011, 15–17).

Dirk from Friarton (Cowie et al. 2011; drawing by Marion O’Neil) ©️ NMS