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18 September 2014
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Scottish Crannogs

By Barrie Andrian
Artefacts and ecofacts

Image of the burnt pot remains found at crannog site
Remains of a burnt pot found at the crannog site ©
The giant organic mound at Oakbank has preserved a range of organic artefacts as well as structure, but until features are carefully defined, it is impossible to distinguish between a barkless twig and the handle of an object.

Many artefacts, such as a fragment of cloth and almost all of the wooden objects, are found broken or incomplete, suggesting they were simply discarded. These include a hand-carved wooden plate, wooden platters, and a broken vessel perforated with several holes.

Finding the remains of a charred wooden spoon near fragments of a burnt-encrusted pot, however, suggests an episode where the pot - possibly on fire at the time - was forcibly ejected from the house. Intact, smaller and more personal items such as polished beads, spindle whorls, a sandstone pendant and other perforated stones may have been dropped by accident.

'... laboratory analysis has identified a range of food and other plant remains known as ecofacts ...'

There was more. The mound also contains animal droppings, nuts and fruit stones amidst copious amounts of bracken, ferns and other plants not immediately recognisable underwater. From samples of this material, laboratory analysis has identified a range of food and other plant remains - known as ecofacts - including wheat and barley grains, nettle and herb fragments, and pollen from many edible plants.

These organic materials rarely survive on land sites unless there are waterlogged deposits. Timbers usually shrivel and split if they are not kept wet. Soil, dung, or droppings will crumble and fibrous materials also shrink and flake if not immersed.

The cold, dark and peaty water in which Oakbank Crannog is immersed, together with the anaerobic or oxygen-free conditions in the mound of material, means that micro-organisms which would normally attack organics do not survive. As a result, even the smallest pieces of evidence about the environment and lifestyle of the inhabitants are well preserved after more than 2,500 years.

Published: 2005-01-25

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