8.3.4 Craft production

There is only limited evidence for specialised craft production in the early medieval SESARF region. There are as yet no well-excavated non-ferrous metal workshops such as those found in hillforts elsewhere in Scotland at this time, though traces of metalworking have been found at a number of sites. The excavations at Dunbar provide the widest range of craftworking activities, including the processing of textiles, antler, shale, and metals such as lead and gold (Perry 2000).

The clearest evidence for craftworking in the region comes in the areas of textile production. Then as now, a large part of the economy in this area would have been devoted to wool production and weaving. The main evidence for this comes from the distribution of loomweights, spindle whorls and weaving sheds, and in some cases, from faunal assemblages. For instance, in Northumbrian phases at Dunbar, the age profile of sheep/goat bones shows a majority lived to advanced ages, suggestive of retention for wool rather than meat or dairy (Perry 2000, 219, 235). This matches well with the artefactual evidence from this site, in which artefacts relating to textile production made up as much as 42% of the assemblage (ibid, 184–5). Blackwell (2018, 267–74) found that diagnostically Anglo-Saxon types of loomweights and weaving equipment from Scotland come from five sites in the SESARF region. At both Dunbar and Ratho, clay loomweights were associated with sunken-featured buildings, and at the latter they were found in a row, representing an upright loom buried in situ in a weaving shed. A similar feature has recently been excavated just outside the project area in the Coquet Valley of Northumberland (Krakowka 2023, 9).

The use of clay for these loomweights hints at local production of ceramic, but only very few fragments of coarse wares have been found from early medieval settlements, including at Gogar Mains, Ratho and Kersons Cleugh.

Black and white photograph showing round stone loom weights in the ground of an excavation site
Cluster of loomweights to the North of the sunken-featured building at Ratho Quarry © HES

The excavations at the monastery at Auldhame have turned up tantalising evidence of manuscript production, including a rare glass inkwell and the harvesting of dog-whelk, a mollusc used for the production of purple dye (Crone and Hindmarch 2016, 138).

Distinctive Northumbrian and Viking Age decorated bone combs have been discovered at a number of sites in the region (Ashby 2006), but no evidence for bone-working has been found.

Finally, outside the excavations at Castle Park, Dunbar, which turned up a large assemblage of iron tools and slag, there is surprisingly little evidence for smithing and smelting of iron in the early medieval SESARF area.