bronze age

4.3.3.5 Outstanding research questions

The outstanding research questions relate to the refinement of the information already available:

  1. Sourcing: there is scope for obtaining a more precise idea of the source of the cannel coal and oil shale used for the objects mentioned above, using the minimally-destructive technique of oil-emersion reflectance microscopy, with reference to the National Coal Board raw material reference collection. The benefit of this approach has been amply demonstrated through the research undertaken by the late Dr J M (Mick) Jones, on artefacts from Yorkshire and Scotland; this work should be continued.
  2. Sexing: wherever possible, the sex of the human remains associated with jewellery and dress accessories of jet and jet-like materials needs to be established. The use of aDNA may help in cases where diagnostic bones are not present.
  3. Position in graves: wherever new finds of jet/jet-like jewellery are encountered, very great care needs to be employed in recording their exact position, especially in the case of spacer plate necklaces. The benefits of block-lifting and laboratory excavation have been demonstrated in the case of the West Water reservoir find (Hunter and Davis 1994), where it is debatable as to whether the tiny lead beads would have been recognised in the field.
  4. Dating: although we have a fairly good chronological 'handle' on the currency of individual artefact types, there is always scope for improving matters with more high-quality AMS dates, so every opportunity to date them should be taken - especially in the case of new finds.

4.3.3 Jet and jet-like materials

4.3.3.1 Introduction

Although jet and similar-looking materials had been used in Scotland since around 3600 BC, objects of these materials had been rare. However, from c 2200 BC, a significant increase in their use (by the elite) is evident in Scotland. Jewellery and dress accessories of jet, made by specialists based in the Whitby area of Yorkshire (where the only substantial source of good quality jet in Britain and Ireland exists), were imported, and copies and substitute pieces were made in Scotland using similar-looking, locally available materials (i.e. cannel coal, oil shale, lignite and albertite - the last known to outcrop around Strathpeffer, Highland).

The use of jet and jet-like materials in pre-Iron Age Britain is the subject of a current, long-term research project led by Dr Alison Sheridan of National Museums Scotland (NMS), working with Mary Davis (National Museum Wales) and with other colleagues including Lore Troalen and Dr Susy Kirk (Sheridan and Davis 2002; Sheridan 2008). The results of this work - which include compositional analysis to identify raw material - are summarised in this section. The dating of jet and jet-like artefacts has partly been achieved through the NMS' radiocarbon dating programme (for results of which, see annual reports in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland), and partly through the Beaker People Project (Jay et al. 2012) and Beakers and Bodies Project (Curtis and Wilkin 2012), with additional dates coming from developer-funded excavations.

Jet - the semi-fossilised remains of wood of the araucaria species (i.e. the species to which monkey puzzle trees belong) - is an unusual substance in that, like amber, it is a stone that can float; a stone that can be burnt; and it has electrostatic properties. In addition, it is aesthetically pleasing and rare. All these properties - and a belief in its special powers - are likely to have lain behind its use and popularity (Sheridan and Shortland 2003). Jet is known to have been used as an amulet in the Roman and Viking periods, with late Roman writers claiming that it could be used to heal toothache, close up bloody wounds, heal gynaecological problems and even determine whether a person was feigning virginity (Allason-Jones 1996). Still used as an amulet around the world, jet is highly likely to have been attributed amuletic powers in prehistory.

4.3.3.2 Chalcolithic use of jet and jet-like materials

4.3.3.3 Early Bronze Age use of jet and jet-like materials, 22nd century - c 1750 BC

4.3.3.4 The use of jet and jet-like materials, c 1750 - c 750 BC

4.3.3.5 Outstanding research questions