Organic material


Elsewhere in Iron Age Scotland, bone was an abundant raw material used for a variety of decorative and practical objects, including combs, pins and needles, textile-working tools, dress fasteners and dice (eg Saville and Hallén 1994). It is, however, notably sparse on sites from Perth and Kinross, with only occasional examples known, reflecting the poor survival of bone in acidic soils and waters, such as Oakbank crannog (Dixon 1981, 19).  


Excavated over a prolonged period since 1980, the organic artefact assemblage from Oakbank crannog, Loch Tay, is of national significance; it consists of a selection of rare and unique items which represent everyday life in the Early Iron Age, of the type usually lost on terrestrial sites. It includes a range of vessel types including a butter/cheese dish, putative bridge from a lyre or similar stringed instrument, a hunting/herding whistle, a fragment of woven woollen textile, a large collection of worked wood (Dixon 2004, 146–51) and fir candles (tapers of pine wood). 

Underwater image of large rectangular posts of wood on the floor of the loch. Six of the seven posts are upstanding, with one large one fallen in the middle. The water is brown, and so the posts are seen through a brown haze.
Preserved timbers from Oakbank crannog ©️ Michael Stratigos

The evidence for Iron Age stringed instruments in Scotland is extremely rare, and the only other known example of a lyre bridge was excavated at High Pasture Cave, Skye (Birch et al 2021). Both fragments suggest that music was an important shared tradition, which was perhaps linked to oral tradition, or in celebration and ritual activities, no doubt often in association with alcohol served from cauldrons and consumed from tankards. 

A piece of rectangular wood (plank) on a textured black surface. The left side of the plank is cut with five triangular notches, uneven in size and distribution.  The plank curves slightly at the top, and is squared off at the bottom.
A lyre bridge from Oakbank crannog ©️ Scottish Crannog Centre

The organic collection from Oakbank crannog is exceptional in terms of breadth and preservation. It offers a rich research resource with the potential to address many knowledge gaps around everyday lives of Iron Age people. 

Riverine and estuarine transport: logboats 

None of the 13 logboats known from Perth and Kinross are yet dated to the Iron Age. Not all have been radiocarbon dated, but Bronze Age dates have been confirmed for the vessels from Carpow (MPK12214), on the Tay estuary and Croft-na-Caber (MPK7026), Loch Tay, while the Errol 2 boat (MPK4700) dates to the mid-1st millennium AD (Strachan 2010, 130). The wooden paddles from Oakbank crannog suggest boats of some kind were in use on Loch Tay in the Early Iron Age (Strachan 2010, 117–8). The use of logboats, and skin on frame boats, were no doubt an important feature of the area’s loch, river and estuarine transport from at least the Neolithic to the medieval period. Sewn-plank boats may well have made an appearance in the estuary from the Middle Bronze Age, as evidenced at Dover (Clark 2004) and the Humber wetlands (Wright 1991; Ven der Nort 2004). 

Preserved logboat from Carpow ©️ Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust