Wooden bowl from Iron Age shows signs of re­pair

2,000-year-old ves­sel is rare arte­fact from mainly tree­less is­land

The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) - - NEWS - BY RITA CAMP­BELL

An­cient re­pairs to a per­fectly pre­served Iron Age wooden bowl from a 2,000-year-old well in Orkney have amazed ex­perts.

The remarkable find was made dur­ing con­ser­va­tion work be­ing un­der­taken on the well this week.

Dis­cov­ered at the Cairns Broch ar­chae­ol­ogy site, it has an ex­tra­or­di­nary story to tell of an­cient re­pair sug­gest­ing it was a val­ued ob­ject dur­ing the Iron Age.

Ear­lier this year, ar­chae­ol­o­gists from the Univer­sity of the High­lands and Is­lands Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute ex­ca­vated an un­der­ground cham­ber in an Iron Age broch on South Ron­ald­say.

Now, on­go­ing con­ser­va­tion work on

“They went to such lengths to re­pair a quite beau­ti­ful ob­ject”

a wa­ter-logged de­posit, re­cov­ered from in­side the un­der­ground cham­ber be­neath the broch, has af­forded an ex­cep­tion­ally rare glimpse of a well­p­re­served, 2,000-year-old, wooden bowl.

The na­ture of the bowl, and the de­tails emerg­ing about its life story, may help ar­chae­ol­o­gists to bet­ter un­der­stand the enigma of such sub­ter­ranean cham­bers, lead­ing to a fuller ap­pre­ci­a­tion of their com­plex role within Iron Age com­mu­ni­ties.

The first stage of the con­ser­va­tion work was com­pleted this week, as spe­cial­ist con­ser­va­tors at AOC Ar­chae­ol­ogy, based in Ed­in­burgh, have now pa­tiently “mi­cro-ex­ca­vated” the bowl from its pro­tec­tive soil block.

The bowl had been skil­fully hand-carved from a half-log of an alder tree. Tool marks are vis­i­ble in the in­te­rior, but the ex­te­rior has been finely bur­nished.

On one of its bro­ken edges a se­ries of about 16 strange-look­ing wig­gly strips of bronze can be made out. Beyond th­ese, a fur­ther small straight bronze strip runs across the break and is an an­cient bracket or sta­ple. The sta­ple and the riv­ets rep­re­sent a very art­ful an­cient re­pair, or re­pairs, made to the ves­sel to pro­long its life.

Martin Car­ruthers, lec­turer in ar­chae­ol­ogy at the UHI Ar­chae­ol­ogy In­sti­tute, Orkney Col­lege, and di­rec­tor of the Cairns project, said: “Af­ter first en­coun­ter­ing the bowl this sum­mer, we had won­dered if wooden bowls, and other ob­jects made from wood, might ac­tu­ally have been much more com­mon than we would have pre­vi­ously ex­pected for the mostly tree­less en­vi­ron­ment of Iron Age Orkney. Per­haps ar­chae­ol­o­gists have been guilty of over­play­ing the scarcity of wood in Scot­land’s North­ern Isles.”

Dr Anne Crone, a spe­cial­ist in an­cient wooden arte­facts with AOC Ar­chae­ol­ogy, said: “The rar­ity of wooden ves­sels in Orkney could be why they went to such lengths to re­pair what is a quite beau­ti­ful ob­ject.”

PAINSTAK­ING: An ar­chae­ol­o­gist cleans mud from the 2,000-year-old wooden bowl found at the Cairns Broch site on South Ron­ald­say

The cleaned wood of the 2,000-year-old wooden bowl

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