Friday, June 09, 2017

Iron Smelting in the 'Celtic' Iron Age... (one)

One of the problems with researching the actual historical prototypes for the upcoming demonstration at the Scottish Crannog Centre - is finding some actual prototypes.

(Very) Loosely, this will be framed up as :
500 BC
Scotland (ideally the area around Perth)
Iron Age technology ('Middle' ?)
Is that 'Britons' / 'Celts' / 'Picts' ?

I've chosen to refer to the current SCC project as 'Celtic Iron Age'.
I freely admit - no matter what language I chose - the terms are a bit loaded.
What to the Scots themselves use as the 'ideal' term for their ancestors? The people living at the edge of the Highlands, 'before the Roman Invasion'.
- 'Picts' generally is used to refer to the peoples of especially North and East Scotland, 'post Roman to pre Viking'. One of the dominant differences (on many influencial levels) is the the Picts are primarily a Christian culture.
- 'Britons' generally is a much wider grouping, referring generally to 'pre Roman' - but over the geography of England primarily. I feel it reasonable to distinguish between Scotland and England - although at period of interest, neither nation existed.
- 'Celts' does imply connections to the wider group across Europe, with shared material culture. So it is fair to say a term not so specific in terms of geography or even time. It is the term most often used at the SCC itself.

As I understand it, there is some question, at least based on existing archaeology, if the people building and living in the Crannogs on Loch Tay had actually been smelting their own iron. Or if instead, the iron was imported from outside, as either the intermediate stage 'working bars', or even as the finished objects. The excavations by the team of the Scottish Trust for Underwater Archaeology have only recovered rare objects made of iron. This is pretty much what should be expected, given the nature of ancient object preservation, the severe limits of underwater archaeology - and the raw value of iron objects within their original historic context in the first place. One object recovered, from under the platform of the original Crannog, was a small iron knife blade. Certainly a personal disaster for the original owner!

Unsurprisingly, there is not much solid archaeology to go on.
The excavated remains of iron smelting sites for Scotland is very limited. Not especially surprising, as 'occasional' working areas don't leave much of an observable trace to begin with. Furnaces are constructed of clay, perhaps with stone supports, but in any case either wash away or are shattered by weather. The slag always remains, but again in itself presents little in way of evidence. The valuable iron is of course absent! So even in the best situation, it is more likely traces of an iron smelting event will be most likely discovered within the excavation of a much larger occupation complex. (see earlier work related to the Culduthel site)

(next - looking at some other experiments)

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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