Iron is usually heavily corroded and fragmented when found and unless discovered in archaeological contexts can be chronologically undiagnostic. Iron tools are regularly discovered on settlement sites. Several have been recovered from well-dated contexts, for example, blade fragments from Castle Law, Abernethy (PKHT 2020), and a knife or dagger from Oakbank crannog (Dixon and Andrian forthcoming). The finds from Castle Craig broch included a sickle (MPK1399; Poller forthcoming; Case Study Castle Craig Broch). Proxy evidence for more widespread use of iron edged tools, especially toward the end of the Iron Age, is provided by whetstones, while tool marks occur on timbers from Oakbank crannog (Case Study Oakbank Crannog). 


Copper-alloy finds are rather rare from settlement sites. Occasional finds of jewellery, such as pins and brooches, are discussed below, as are examples of decorative metalwork (so-called ‘Celtic art’). The most spectacular finds tend to come from off-site contexts, such as the remarkable cauldron from Abercairny (MPK1515), which was found in a bog on the Abercairny estate, Crieff, in or before 1946, when it was donated to Perth Museum (accession number IE.1946; MacGregor 1976, no. 300). Though it is in remarkably good condition, it is not complete; it is missing a rim piece and two handles, all of iron, which were most likely deliberately detached before burial. It probably dates to between around 200 BC–AD 200, and is made from a single sheet of bronze, which was beaten into shape; oval hammer-marks are clearly visible. Used in the preparation and consumption of food and drink, such cauldrons were primarily intended for feasting (Joy 2014). Their presence at communal feasts and at sacrificial rites no doubt reinforced their symbolic and mythological meanings (Green 1998; Joy 2014). 

Oblique image of a large, black bowl shaped object against a white background. The cauldron has a thin lip which appears sharp and multiple small holes in the metal can be seen towards the back of the object.
Abercairney Cauldron ©️ Perth Museum and Art Gallery

A different form of vessel is seen in decorative bronze tankard handles. These were mounted onto stave-built wooden tankards, which were sometimes covered in copper-alloy sheet. The handles are the commonest components of the tankards to survive. They are regarded as a distinctive element of the Late Iron Age/Roman period in Britain. Originally regarded as Early Iron Age and with a limited distribution (Corcoran 1952), a new analysis (Horn 2015) has shifted their chronological and cultural understanding.  In Scotland, there is wide distribution of such items, ranging from Orkney to Kirkcudbrightshire as well as further south into modern-day England. They are broadly dated to the 1st–2nd centuries AD. Locally there were no known examples until the 21st century, but in the last two decades five handles have been identified through excavation, as at Castle Craig broch (Poller forthcoming; Horn 2015, fig. 11) and metal-detecting, as at Muthill (MPK14979; Hunter 2006, 157, fig. 19b) and Milnathort, Quoigs and Kinross (all now in the collections of Perth Museum). The handles could be mounted singly or in pairs; a few are decorated with abstract ‘Celtic’ designs. The various contexts of deposition for handles, which were charted by Horn (2015, 330–3), include Iron Age settlements and Roman military sites and burials and watery places. This shows that they were used in ritual as well as utilitarian contexts. The consumption of liquids in various contexts, indigenous and formerly Roman, is further evidenced by the indigenous reuse of Roman military bronze cooking vessels, as discussed below, again in both ritual (Stormont Loch, MPK3900) and utilitarian contexts (Castle Craig broch).