6.4.3 Late Bronze Age (c 1100/1000–800 BC)

Figure 86: Late Bronze Age flesh hook, Inveraray. © HES

From around 1000 BC there appears to be a hiatus in activity in Kilmartin Glen that lasted for over a millennium, and this may well relate to further climatic deterioration and the expansion of the Mòine Mhòr: as noted in Section 4, more palaeoenvironmental analysis of that peat bog needs to be undertaken. Elsewhere in Argyll and Bute, however, during the Late Bronze Age there is evidence for participation in a flourishing and extensive Atlantic Europe network of elite contacts (including, once more, Irish contacts), with the associated lifestyle of feasting and actual (and stylised) combat. This is reflected, for example, in the flesh hook from Inveraray (Figure 86; Needham and Bowman 2005), the hoard of swords and other weaponry found at Torran (CANMORE ID 22803) (Figure 87; Campbell and Coles 1963) and Killeonan, and various ornaments of bronze, gold and amber found in Argyll and Bute, eg at Croig Cave on Mull (Figure 88) Mithen and Wickes 2012, and see Coles 1960 on the distribution of Late Bronze Age metalwork and Eogan 1994 on gold finds). Bronze artefacts played a key role in the operation of this system, as a symbol and expression of status and wealth and as a kind of currency, to be accumulated and given away to the gods in lavish ceremonies.

Figure 87: Late Bronze Age hoard from Killeonan. Photo: David Lyons, from Kilmartin: an Introduction and Guide. © Kilmartin Museum

An end to this particular lifestyle (involving a collapse of the ‘bubble’ of competitive conspicuous consumption) around 800 BC has been identified, and described in compelling detail, by Stuart Needham (Needham 2007). While the fortunes of the elite will have been significantly affected by this, nevertheless life did not cease – as is revealed, for example, by the Early Iron Age wooden figure that had once stood, around 600 BC, overlooking a perilous stretch of water at Ballachulish (CANMORE ID 23569) (Figure 89: Coles 1998). Evidence relating to settlement and subsistence strategy at this time is not abundant, although it is quite possible that many of the small circular structures in the upland areas date within this period – as discussed in Section 7.

Chapter 6 image

Figure 88: The Late Bronze Age bracelet and amber bead found in Croig Cave. From Mithen and Wickes 2012 © copyright

The many research questions pertaining to this period include:

  1. The choreography of climate change and its effects on human behaviour needs to be refined for this period. How did settlement and land use change?
  2. What was the nature of farming activities at this time?
  3. When precisely did the Mòine Mhór expand?
  4. How did social organisation change over this period? Does the apparent proliferation of weaponry during the Late Bronze Age relate to an increased incidence of conflict?
  5. From where was the metalwork being obtained over this period?

To address these questions, a combination of fieldwork and palaeoenvironmental investigation is needed, together with further analysis of metal objects (especially the rare gold items).

Figure 89: The Ballachulish Figure, shortly after discovery. © NMS