8.3.8 Material culture

In general, Argyll dun sites tend to produce few artefacts (Crone and Campbell 2005, 121, Table 4), and the area was almost aceramic for most of the first two millennia. The outstanding exception is the royal site of Dunadd (CANMORE ID 39564) (Lane and Campbell 2000), which has produced a wide variety of materials relating to craft activities, as well as some of the largest quantities of imported 6/7th-century Continental pottery in Atlantic Britain (Figure 99). Crucibles and moulds showed the production of fine metalwork (brooches and pins) using gold, silver and copper alloys, making this one of the most important metalworking sites in Atlantic Britain. Anglo-Saxon items were present on the site, and their designs copied and adapted into Celtic forms as part of the development of the Insular Art style (Campbell and Lane 1993). Most of the brooches being produced were of Fowler's Type G, which is widespread in northern Britain and Ireland. There are no signs of regional types of metalwork that can be identified with Dál Riata as a polity, but unique pins found at Tirefour (CANMORE ID 23082), Lismore (Campbell forthcoming), Macrihanish (Batey 1990), and at Kilellan (CANMORE ID 37496), Islay (Ritchie 2005, 143-4), as well shrine fittings from Iona, show an flourishing and artistically innovative tradition. The imported pottery and glass (Figure 100), from Aquitaine, is also found on surrounding sites such as Ardifuir dun (CANMORE ID 39140), Ederline Boathouse crannog (CANMORE ID 22775), and Loch Glashan crannog (CANMORE ID 40047) (Campbell 2007), probably reflecting client/lord relationships with Dunadd. Further examples are known from Dunollie , Little Dunagoil, Bute, and Kildalloig dun, Kintyre (CANMORE ID 38708), while Iona has continental pottery as well as the most northerly known example of African Red Slipware produced in the Carthage area. These finds and others show that there is no doubt that at the power centres of the area were in close contact with the Continent and even the Mediterranean world at this period. Exotic items include a Byzantine gold-in-glass tessera, the mineral orpiment and madder colourants from Dunadd (CANMORE ID 39564). Other sites with considerable quantities of material include the royal site of Dunollie (Alcock and Alcock 1987), and the crannog at Loch Glashan (CANMORE ID 40047) (Crone and Campbell 2005) where large amounts of wooden objects and leather-working debris (mainly shoes) were identified. The vallum ditch at Iona also produced organic items, including shoes, bowls, ladles, buckets, a wooden staff, and structural timbers. There was a leather satchel at Loch Glashan which is best interpreted as a book satchel of a form known from Ireland (Campbell 2010; cf Clarke 2012, 110-112). The survival of an early medieval wooden crozier on Lismore (the Bachuil Mor of St Moluag), still in the possession of the hereditary keeper, is unique in Scotland in remaining in private hands. Another reliquary, from Kilmichael Glassary, is of early 12th-century date, and shows Norse influences, but encloses an early iron handbell (Caldwell et al. 2012).


Figure 99: Current E ware distribution in Scotland © Ewan Campbell

Figure 100: Current glass imports distribution © Ewan Campbell


For the Norse period, apart from the grave goods, both hoards and stray finds are found scattered through the region. This material has been summarised (Graham-Campbell and Batey 1998), and the gold and silver items catalogued in detail (Graham-Campbell 1995 updated 2008). A rare example of a Viking Age find from the region was recorded by Graham-Campbell from Lismore (2008) as a fragment of a gold arm ring recovered from Kilcheran (CANMORE ID 273161). Although Scotland did not produce any coins throughout the first millennium, both hoards and stray finds are found. New finds are regularly reported to Treasure Trove and published in PSAS (Bateson 1989; Bateson and Holmes 1997, 2003, 2006, 2013). However, none have been found in Argyll since 1978, the period covered by these lists, reflecting the paucity of evidence for 8-10th century period in Scotland generally. Rich grave goods from both male and female burials include Norse types of swords, shields, balances and weights, harness mounts, oval brooches, pins, axes and other tools. Most unusual is a bronze ladle from Ballinaby (CANMORE ID 37407), Islay, unique in Scotland.

An important class of objects are motif pieces and graffiti-inscribed slates. From Dunadd (CANMORE ID 39564) there are sketches for brooches, and a large slate showing attempts to construct complex knotwork, and animal art (Lane and Campbell 2000, 186-9). These are important for showing the processes involved in the creation of complex metalwork of the period. There is also an inscribed pebble which shows the presence of literate people on the site. From Inchmarnock (CANMORE ID 40268) there is a large collection of graffiti-inscribed slates, including text, figurative scenes, and decorative elements (Lowe 2008). These give insights into the process of teaching literacy. A smaller collection comes from old excavations at nearby St Blane's (CANMORE ID 40292). Inscribed monuments are rare in Argyll, however, with a handful from Iona, and single examples from a few other sites (Campbell 2010). The earliest of these, the Echoid stone (Iona Abbey CANMORE ID 21667), may refer to one of the early 7th-century kings of Dál Riata, Eochaid Buide (Forsyth pers comm). The others include ogham inscriptions from Gigha (CANMORE ID 38615), Bruach an Druimein (CANMORE ID 39451), Inchmarnock (CANMORE ID 40268), a Latin inscription from Lochgoilhead (CANMORE ID 23614) and and runic inscriptions from Iona, Inchmarnock (CANMORE ID 40268) and Dunollie .