Iron Age The Cairns

Fascinating finds from The Cairns

Enigmatic finds continue to emerge from The Cairns during post-excavation work being carried out by Kevin Kerr - one of our MSc students from 2016.
Seal Tooth

Enigmatic finds continue to emerge from The Cairns during post-excavation work being carried out by Kevin Kerr – one of our MSc students from 2016.

The picture above shows a seal tooth that was unearthed last summer at The Cairns. It was found in the metal working area that may post-date the broch.

Part of the tooth is highly polished and, despite having been buried for nearly 2,000 years, still glistens when held up to the light. To add to the enigma, there is also slight wear on one side which could have resulted from its use as a tool or perhaps it is an item of discarded jewellery?

It is also interesting to note that the wide bay and beach that The Cairns overlooks is still used by seals who regularly snooze on the rocks and sand at the base of the cliff. It is also the site where seal cubs are born and, in autumn, Windwick Bay echoes to the haunting sound of seals calling to their new offspring.

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A seal relaxing in Windwick Bay – just below The Cairns site.

Kevin Kerr has the monumental task of recording and cataloguing the hundreds of finds unearthed at The Cairns.

He can be found most days, when not working elsewhere, entering data, surrounded by boxes of artefacts stacked in the Finds Rooms at the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute. While discussing some of the finer points of broch life with Martin Carruthers, Kevin showed me a further small find that on the face of it looked like many other finds unearthed at The Cairns, until two tiny crosses were pointed out. Marks that had obviously been scratched into the bone by a very sharp blade.

They were regular and so cannot be butchery marks, but what was their use?

Why did one the of inhabitants of The Cairns broch scratch two tiny regular crosses into a broken animal bone? Do they have significance? Are they just a mark of someone’s boredom? Were they used for counting and recording? I guess we will never know – but the object does represent another reminder of the small things that made up the life of the people living in the broch.

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Two tiny marks scratched into an animal bone

1 comment

  1. This may be a daft idea, but….the more I look at those two crosses on the bone, the more they remind me of the marks a person might make when planning to drill something. You decide exactly where you want the hole so be, you mark the places, then you drill, or pass it to someone else to drill. Thread a leather thong or rope through the holes, and…..I don’t know what it would be for! Maybe so it could be hung from a belt, or on a peg? Or…..the thong goes round your wrist, to help to hold the bone, for whacking something? The holes would have to be in just the right place, for you to get the right heft of the bone/weapon? Maybe heading off into the realms of fancy there.
    Maybe a daft idea – just a suggestion – marks for drilling holes.

    The seal tooth is an object of desire!

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