Latest news from Till Valley Archaeological Society
Dr David Caldwell, president of the Antiquaries of Scotland, gave the first talk of the new season, entitled Archaeology of the Medieval Highlands and Islands, to a good company of Till Valley Archaeological Society members and friends on Wednesday, September 5.
In the 13th century, under Alexander III, Scotland was a kingdom divided by the ‘Highland Line’ – the lowlands primarily occupied by the wealthy chieftains, while to the west were the “wild and lawless” clans.
Prior to the Treaty of Perth in 1266, the Western Isles were controlled by various Norse/Gaelic rulers, who owed their allegiance to the Kings of Norway, rather than Scotland.
It was during this time that the Western Highlands and Islands became The Kingdom of the Isles, by Charter from King Harald of Norway.
Following the Battle of Largs, the Scots began to push westwards and eventually the islands became integrated into Scotland.
The extent of the kingdom is unclear, but it certainly included Anglesey and the Isle of Man, and was ruled by wealthy chieftains on the mainland.
The Isle of Man still retains the Tynwald, the Parliament of the island, and many of the place names in the Western Isles reflect the Norse connection.
The European influence can also be seen in the traditional form of the castles, with a hall, causeway, keep and bailey.
As the Scots moved west, they began to build defensive castles, for example Rothsay and Dunstaffnage, complete with arrowslits and towers, but many of these cannot be dated or no longer exist.
Islay, in particular, is comparable with the Isle of Man, with a possible seat of power at Finlaggan for council meetings and feasting.
Grave slabs on the island show images of Norse warriors, and the ships, although compressed to fit the space, are similar to the familiar Viking longships, reflecting a Scandinavian society.
A recent discovery on Skye is a medieval dockyard, complete with entry canal, dry dock, buildings and a tower.
The Dioscese of the Isles gave allegiance to the Archbishop of Nidaros, in Trondheim, and drystone churches with graveyards became the norm, as at Mingary, Ardnamurchan and Aros on Mull.
The houses of the local people are there also, hidden in the sand dunes around the coastline.
And on Islay there is evidence of lead mining prior to 1229.
Midden deposits at these sites show pottery from France, as well as fruit waste – the results of trade.
There was also money available, evidenced in the 11th century Iona Psalter and the silver-gilt Iona Nunnery Hoard, all probably made by local craftsmen.
And of course, there is the famed Lewis Chessmen, made of walrus ivory, which some say must have been “lost” by traders from abroad, but are more likely to have been the property of a local chieftain and left where they were found.
This all illustrates the culture and quality of life at the time.
The 14th and 15th centuries show an increase in wealth and culture. The Dunvegan Cup has been dated to 1493, and Queen Mary’s Harp is from the same era.
There are more sculptures, art and manuscripts that have survived.
On Islay, a James III groat was found, the palace was in ruins, and there was evidence of farming communities.
The ‘Galley’ castles around the coasts on Mull, Barra, Jura and Islay had easy sea access for trade, and roads and more houses were appearing.
By the 16th century, during the reign of James VI, there is also evidence of military planning, which heralded the beginning of the modern world.
And in 1580 citizenship was offered to the Celts, and Scotland was no longer divided.
The next event on the TillVAS calendar is the annual James IV Memorial Lecture, which takes place on Sunday, October 9, at Coldstream Community Centre, beginning at 2.30pm.
The speaker will be Dr Glenn Foard, and his subject is Bosworth 1485 – Re-discovering a Battlefield.
This is a ticketed event. Tickets cost £5 each, available now from Maureen Charlton at Flodden Cottage, Milfield, NE71 6JF on receipt of a SAE and cheque made payable to TillVAS.
There will be light refreshments available at the memorial lecture, and all are welcome to attend.