Past & Present

Iron Age Inhabitants

It is presumed that high-status families stayed in the brochs and duns of the Iron Age period. However, archaeologists have not yet found the homes of the labouring farmers who would have been involved in their construction. Presumably their smaller houses have either been destroyed by more recent agricultural activity or lie buried under the blown sand of the dunes and machair to the west. The objects excavated from the broch at Rubh' an Teampaill near Taobh Tuath, and Dùn Mhulan in South Uist, do give an indication of the equipment in use 2,500 to 2,000 years ago.

Only certain types of tools and containers automatically survive several thousand years of burial – those made of clay, like pots and loom weights, and stone, such as hammers and grinders. In certain soil conditions, bone or antler items may endure, including pins and handles. Organic materials such as leather, textiles and wood decay rapidly in soil and are rarely recovered. Objects made of iron corrode but sometimes lumps of unrecognisable metal can be made to give up their secrets, by passing them through an X-ray machine. A few knife and axe blades, as well as a possible awl* and a needle found in the broch at Dùn Mhulan have been identified in this way.

* An awl is a small pointed tool used for piercing holes, especially in leather.

By Jill Harden

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