Steatite Vessels

25 July 2022

News Type:
Find of the Month

These stone vessels, many with handles, were found at a variety of sites in Sutherland and are now on display at Dunrobin Castle Museum. They have been variously interpreted as lamps or cups, and are often found at sites with Iron Age occupation including brochs. Most are made of steatite, showing widespread use of this easily carved material, especially in the north and west (see Highland Regional ScARF 7.4.2, Datasheet 7.5). However, more work needs to be done on identifying sources of steatite in the Highlands.

Use of steatite continues into later periods, and some Viking Age examples are thought to be imports from Shetland. As a result, good dating is needed, but the balance of probability is that surviving objects without context are likely to be Iron Age unless they have forms similar to Viking Age objects. A number are decorated, usually with simple geometric designs, showing links with metalworking designs (Hunter 2014b, 333–334). Some have evidence of soot and hence are considered to be lamps.

Further information:

Highland Regional ScARF

Hunter, Fraser 2014b ‘Art in context: the massive metalworking tradition of north-east Scotland’, in Gosden, Christopher et al (eds) Celtic Art in Europe. Making connections, Oxbow Books: Oxford.

Hunter, Fraser 2015 ‘Craft in context: artefact production in later prehistoric Scotland’, in Hunter and Ralston 2015, Scotland in Later Prehistoric Europe, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland: Edinburgh. 225–246.

Archaeology for Communities in the Highlands (ARCH), The Goods Shed, The Old Station, Strathpeffer, Ross-Shire, Scotland IV14 9DH
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