Archaeological Dialogues

Special Section

The raw, the cooked and the burnt

Interpretations of food and animals in the Hebridean Iron Age1

Ewan Campbell


The iron age settlement at Sollas, North Uist, Scotland, provides an unusually varied set of data relating to food and the role of animals in society. By comparing the evidence of food residues on pottery with animal remains from middens, foundation burials and cremations, structural patterns emerge which throw light on the relative status of domestic species. Sheep and cows are treated differently, with sheep being mainly buried, and cattle cremated. This patterning enables a speculative world view of the inhabitants to be constructed, and further analysis shows that mature cattle were classified differently from younger animals. It is suggested that these normally hidden structuring principles cause difficulties for the conventional interpretation of animal remains on other iron age sites.


  • Iron Age;
  • animal remains;
  • food residues;
  • structured deposition;
  • animal classification


1 The initial chemical analyses were carried out with the aid of a faculty of arts grant from the Univeristy of Glasgow and undertaken by Marcia Taylor. I would like to thank Niall Sharples, Mike Parker Pearson and Jacqui Mulville for discussion of the ideas in this paper and generous hospitality on south Uist, and Colin Richards and Siân Jones for valuable comments on the text.