13/07/2018
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

2,000-year-old wooden bowl discovered in Orkney - Scottish archaeology news

d82bbfa5-dd7d-4938-b967-380f5d7035c6
Archaeologists from the University of the Highlands & Islands Institute have unearthed a 2,000-year-old wooden bowl from an underground chamber beneath The Cairns Broch, South Ronaldsay in Orkney.

 

The vessel is the oldest wooden bowl yet found in Orkney and will give the team from the UHI Archaeology Institute a unique insight into life in an Iron Age broch in Northern Scotland.

The beautifully-preserved object is a complete wood-turned bowl around 30 centimetres in diameter, with an elegant profile, an everted rim (splayed outwards), a globular body and rounded base. Although the object has split at some point in the past, it is complete and was being held together and protected by the muddy silts of the excavation.  

A find from 'The Well'

The bowl has been confirmed to be made from alder and the dating is known from the location within the subterranean chamber which the archaeologists on site have termed, ‘The Well’

This underground feature consists of a series of stone cut steps descending into a stone chamber, and was sealed when the broch went out of use and abandoned sometime between the Later 1st and Mid-2nd Century AD. It is assumed that the bowl dates from this period, however, radiocarbon dating will be required to see if it could be from an even earlier date.  

Other finds

In addition to the bowl, there are preserved plant fibres, some of which appear to be woven together by human hands, and at least two other wooden objects, which seem to be pegs or stakes, similar in cross section to modern tent pegs.  Substantial quantities of other waterlogged plant material including grasses, heather, and seeds, are also present.  There appears to be more waterlogged objects waiting to be lifted from the silt.  Ancient insect remains and probably a host of other tiny items, perhaps including parasite eggs and coprolites (fossilised faeces), may even be found.

Video - exploring The Well

Site Director, Martin Carruthers, Lecturer in Archaeology at UHI Archaeology Institute, said: ‘It’s miraculous that we’ve got this wooden vessel.  It’s really quite unprecedented preservation for a northern broch, and I still can’t believe it has turned up at The Cairns! In appearance, the bowl is similar in shape to certain of the pottery vessels of the period, and in particular it looks like the sort of vessel we suspect to have been used for serving food or drink. 

"Its round base makes you think that it would have been required to be constantly held when full, and perhaps used socially, passed around from hand to hand, person to person.  It’s already been nicknamed the ‘Cairns Quaich’ or the ‘Cairns Cog’* by the team.

“I wouldn’t have thought that it is simply the bucket used to lift out water from the base of the ‘well’, for one thing it’s not that large, and its shape makes it inconvenient to place down on the ground after lifting water, but if it were used to gently scoop smaller quantities of water from the base of the chamber and pour them out elsewhere, transferring to a larger bucket or, dare I say it, poured as a libation, then I think that might be closer to the mark, perhaps”.

The excavations are on-going and more waterlogged items are likely to be raised during this time.The next steps will be to conserve and assess the objects. It is hoped that funds can be raised as soon as possible to pay for specialist conservation.

Video and images copyright UHI Archaeology Institute.

Back to "Scottish archaeology" Category

13/07/2018 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Scottish astronomer Williamina Fleming died - On this day in history

Pioneering Scottish female astronomer Williamina Fleming died on 21 May 1911.


The Battle of Nechtansmere was fought - On this day in history

The Battle of Nechtansmere (or Blar Dhun Neachdain) was fought on 20 May 685AD. ...


Spotlight on Moidart History Group

The Moidart History Group is a research group that exists to preserve and explore the history of the area, ...


Author and diarist James Boswell died - On this day in history

Author and diarist James Boswell died on 19 May 1795, at the age of 54. ...


Other Articles

Photographer David Octavius Hill died - On this day in history

Pioneering photographer David Octavius Hill died on 17 May 1870.


Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Burnes was born - On this day in history

Scottish explorer Sir Alexander Burnes was born on 16 May 1805.


Mary Queen of Scots married her third husband - On this day in history

Mary Queen of Scots married her third husband, James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell on 15 May 1567. ...


St Andrews Society of Golfers was founded - On this day in history

The St Andrews Society of Golfers was founded on 14 May 1754.