Architects and artisans

Martin Carver

in Portmahomack

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780748624416
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780748670703 | DOI:
Architects and artisans

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  • History and Theory of Archaeology


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This chapter describes the truly remarkable 8th century bag-shaped buildings excavated at Portmahomack. The geometrical layout, evident in the best preserved example, shows a feeling for creative symmetry which seems to come from mathematical patterns. Here is a very early example of true architecture, realised in timber, stone and turf. The northern building housed the vellum workers, identified with the help of modern parchment makers. They had a tank to clean hides, bone pegs and pebbles to stretch them on timber frames, rubbing stones and curved knives to trim, smooth and polish the surface of the hide to make it ready for writing and illuminating holy books. The southern building was home to metal workers, whose business left baked clay crucibles and moulds, tiny trays for separating precious metal, a touchstone for assaying gold, a glass stud inlaid with silver and numerous other fragments. The clues we have suggest they were making church vessels. This is one of the largest and most comprehensive exposures of early industry yet seen.

Keywords: Architecture; golden section; turf building; vellum; codex; silver; bronze

Chapter.  7407 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History and Theory of Archaeology

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