‘Coal money’ from Portpatrick (south-west Scotland): reconstructing an Early Medieval craft centre from antiquarian finds - NMS Research Repository
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‘Coal money’ from Portpatrick (south-west Scotland): reconstructing an Early Medieval craft centre from antiquarian finds

14 October 2016

Abstract

Late 19th and 20th-century finds of debris from shale bangle manufacture at Portpatrick in south-west Scotland occasioned considerable interest at the time. The early discoveries were found in grave-digging, giving rise to folk traditions of the material as ‘coal money’ placed with the departed, but these were soon dismissed by antiquaries. Surviving material is split among at least seven different museums and has seen no recent study. This paper synthesises the finds to reconstruct the chaîne opératoire of the making of bangles by removing a central core, and a secondary process of reworking these cores. The extensive secondary use arose because the material was imported, and thus had an enhanced value. The technique of core removal is unusual in Scotland, and wider study identifies a regional cluster around the Firth of Clyde in the Early Medieval period. The technique is widely attested in Ireland at the same time, and it is argued the technology spread from there as part of wider Irish influences. Taken with other strands of evidence, this suggests that a significant Early Medieval centre lies under the modern village of Portpatrick, a site well-placed for Irish connections as it provides the traditional harbour at one end of the shortest sea route to Ireland

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