Shedding Light on the Iron Age

the Artefacts from Clachtoll Broch

Clachtoll lamp, comb and reaping hooksDuring excavations in 2017, AOC worked in partnership with Historic Assynt to clear many tonnes of rubble from the interior of the Iron Age broch at Clachtoll, Assynt. The sealed deposits beneath were carefully excavated, exposing deposits, hearth features and objects which have not been seen for over 2,000 years. Around 250 artefacts were discovered, including a fascinating range of decorated pottery, coarse stone tools, worked bone, metal tools and ornaments. Analysis of these artefacts is currently underway. Highlights amongst the assemblage include a number of beautifully produced stone lamps (right), top made from a soft stone called steatite which would have provided light inside the broch, a long-handled antler comb for use in textile production (right, centre) and a set of iron reaping hooks with traces of their wooden handles still in evidence (right, bottom).  A large number of spindle whorls, many partially made and unfinished, demonstrate that they were being made on-site whilst other finds, such as a bronze ring-headed pin, may have come from further afield.

Our post-excavation analysis, supported by Historic Environment Scotland, includes a detailed and comprehensive programme of radiocarbon dating, soil micromorphology analysis, artefact conservation and specialist artefact analysis by our in-house post-excavation and conservation team. A  variety of scientific techniques have also been undertaken to interrogate the way the objects were made and how they may have been used, including lipid residue analysis to better understand the uses of the steatite lamps and ceramic vessels, x-radiography and metallurgical analysis of the metals, and lithological identification of the stone.  

The finds assemblage from Clachtoll gives us a unique insight into the lives of the Iron Age community that occupied the site. A programme of radiocarbon dating suggests that the occupation of the structure was short lived; the collapse of the rubble into the interior of the broch following a fire then prevented any substantial re-use of the building in later periods, as often seen in other Atlantic Scottish brochs. The opportunity to investigate a pristine assemblage of finds holds great potential to shed light on many aspects of Iron Age life including the crafts and day-to-day activities that took place in the broch, the access the community had to the resources they needed to make the objects that were found, as well as providing insights into the community’s network of contacts and trade. As the excavated soils from the broch interior and the finds recovered from them have not been disturbed by later occupation or antiquarian excavation, the Clachtoll finds assemblage has the potential to help us to better understand the chronology and composition of other broch assemblages the region and beyond.

Work at Clachtoll Broch is supported by Historic Environment Scotland. It was carried out as part of Coigach Assynt Living Landscape, which is suported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund