Under Lock and Key: a Padlock from Lair

AOC was delighted to be involved in the post-excavation analysis and conservation of the iron artefacts and metalworking waste from Perth and Kinross Heritage Trust’s excavations at Lair, Glenshee. 

Archaeological evidence for settlement and land use in early medieval Scottish upland landscapes remains largely undiscovered. PKHT’s important work at Lair investigated several examples of turf-built structures, known as Pitcarmick-type buildings, in the hills of north-east Perth and Kinross. 

AOC’s artefacts specialist Dawn McLaren examined around the iron objects recovered during the Lair excavations. A variety of tools, household fittings and dress accessories were present, each of which provides glimpses into the activities, crafts and day-to-day life at the settlement during Early Medieval times. Several of the pieces were too corroded or fragmentary to identify with confidence but a number of substantially complete knife blades, buckles and pins, were easily recognisable.

Padlock from lair, viewed from both sides

Perhaps the most interesting of these finds is an iron barb-spring padlock case. The form of the padlock case was revealed using x-radiography and careful cleaning by AOC’s Conservation Team. The box-shaped form is consistent with the early medieval date of the structure it was found in. This type of padlock would originally have consisted of three components: the case itself, a long U-shaped bolt mechanism with barbed springs on one end which would have been fitted into one end of the case (in this instance the bolt is broken), and a key which would be inserted into the case from the opposite end to unlock the mechanism. Deriving from the same form of padlock mechanism but probably not from the same lock case shown here is a possible fragmentary and damaged barbed-spring padlock bolt. The identification of this item as a barbed bolt remains tentative but rests on its robust manufacture, the rectangular-section of the barbs and their difference in length; all common traits of barbed-spring bolts. Such padlocks are thought to have been used to secure doors and chests but other uses cannot be ruled out. The discovery of these padlock fragments from Lair suggests there was concern over the safety and security of valuable personal belongings or possessions.

The results of PKHT’s work at Lair have been published in a monograph now available from Archaeopress.

You can also find out more about the project on PKHT’s website.

Funders included: National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Gannochy Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and The Strathmartine Trust.’

Illustration of the padlock, showing key insertion method