As part of our excavations at the Early Iron Age crannogs around Loch Tay, we have been taking samples of the organic debris contexts that are near ubiquitous among the structural timbers. These samples have been analysed by Dr Jen Miller (University Nottingham Trent) and the results have given us lots of new detail into the kinds of activity people were engaged in during the Early Iron Age and how this changed through time.

Organic context from Milton Morenish. These contexts frequently have extremely high charred wood, charcoal, bracken and sedge remains. The everyday detritus of Iron Age life.

One of the really big discoveries has been just how commonly Jen found cloudberry seeds in different contexts from different crannogs. Cloudberry is a close relative of raspberry and bramble, but it grows in alpine or tundra conditions. A handful of seeds were discovered back in the 1990s by Jen during her PhD research from contexts at Oakbank. The Living on Water project has now uncovered them at nearly every Early Iron Age context we have sampled, including at Milton Morenish and Dall Bay South (as well as more from Oakbank!). This result seems to suggest people, and/or their animals, were regularly spending time high up (over 500 m above sea level) in the hills around Loch Tay where cloudberry can occasionally be found today. Given just how regularly Jen has found cloudberry, it might suggest conditions were very favourable for their growth in the Early Iron Age.

Cloudberry seeds recovered from Oakbank

Another major discovery from our recent work has been the recovery of fish bones from contexts at Oakbank crannog. Fish has been controversial as a resource in the Iron Age, and up until now, there had not been any recovery of fish bones from mainland Scottish crannog sites. Of course, their recovery and identification are difficult under the best of circumstances, so it may not be surprising that they had not been found to date. While the number of fish bones recovered does not suggest that there was major fish processing or consumption going on as yet (and it possibly can’t be ruled out), it does suggest that at least some fish was consumed at Oakbank in the Early Iron Age!