Finds from Perth and Kinross have contributed significantly to our understanding of woodworking in medieval Scotland. In particular, the waterlogged soils of Perth have preserved an extraordinary range of wooden artefacts, including barrels, mugs, mallets, furniture fragments, building components and even a privy seat. Numerous lathe-turned objects, such as bowls, plates and a candlestick, were found during the Perth High Street excavations (Curteis et al 2012). Staved items were also common. There is evidence of barrels, buckets, tubs, tankards and porringers having been made from oak staves and bound with hoops. It is thought that for much of the Middle Ages the hoops in Scotland were mostly made from organic materials. Examples of the use of iron hoops in medieval Perth and Kinross would be of considerable interest. Also discovered on Perth High Street were many hewn items, including a trough, platters, shovels and two strainers or skimmers (Curteis et al 2012).
Some of these wooden items were imported. For example, analysis of staves from a 12th-century cask, which had been reused as a well lining on Perth High Street, showed that they were probably from a French wine barrel (Crone 2005). Several imported wine barrels have been discovered in Scotland and their distribution was studied in the 1980s (Morris 1984). Meanwhile, analysis of the extraordinary carved wood panels from a church screen preserved in Perth Museum revealed that the wood had been imported from the Baltic, and perhaps carved in that region as well (Crone et al 2000).
However, a significant proportion of the wood items excavated in Perth seem to have been made locally (Curteis et al 2012). Offcuts and waste from lathe turning were found during the Perth High Street excavations. Unfortunately, the creation of smaller wooden objects has only left a limited trace in the written record. As preservation of buried wooden items also relies on specific conditions, the objects discovered in Perth are of considerable importance in understanding the evolution of woodworking in medieval Scotland.
Historic documentation for the timber used in large-scale building projects occasionally survives. For example, there is written evidence that timber from the Black Wood of Rannoch was used to construct a new roof for the Carmelite friary at Perth and for work on the bridge at Dunkeld (D Hall pers comm). Indeed, the Rentale Dunkeldense contains details of the transport of timber across Loch Rannoch and then by cart to Dunkeld and Perth (Hannay 1915).
Dendrochronological analysis of the pine ‘lang garret’ roof at Castle Menzies dated it to 1572 and indicated it was probably built from Rannoch pine (MPK1054; Mills et al 2017). The trees from which it was built started life in the late 15th century, suggesting that there had been previous phases of exploitation of the woodland. While the Black Wood of Rannoch is not the only ancient woodland of interest in the area, it has thus far received the most attention (Lindsay 1974; Gilbert 1979; Mills 2010; Mills et al 2017). It is evident from the archaeological wood recovered from Perth that a diverse range of woodland resources were being exploited in the region during the Middle Ages.
There is a need for more research into boat building in medieval Scotland, including Perth and Kinross. Relatively few physical remains have been found from medieval shipping anywhere in the country. However, excavations in Perth have produced some boat fragments (Martin and Bogdan 2012). These include frames, lengths of clinker planking, an oarport cover and tholes, pins on which oars pivot while rowing. The Perth oar cover is thought to be from a more substantial seagoing ship, which was largely reliant on sails (Martin and Bogdan 2012, 322). The tholes probably relate to smaller craft, and it has been suggested that a 13th-century upright thole may relate to a local ferry. In general, the boat fragments from Perth show similarities with finds from Scandinavia.
The extent to which boats were constructed locally is unclear. It has been suggested that some of the metal finds from Perth imply local boat building (Martin and Bogdan 2012, 317). By the late Middle Ages, the Scottish government was actively seeking to encourage boat building in Scotland. In 1471 the Scottish Parliament ordered that lords and burghs should ‘make or get ships’ and smaller boats for trade and fishing. Further documentary research may further our understanding of boats and their construction in medieval Perth and Kinross.
Evidence of medieval boats can be found in unexpected places. For example, the oar cover from Perth was in a midden. Timbers from boats can also be reused in buildings. A number of the boat remains from Perth required careful study to properly identify them. Excavators’ ability ‘to recognise boat finds’ and ‘the availability of adequate techniques to record and preserve them’ may well be key to progressing research in this area (Martin and Bogdan 2012, 318).