Bag design is 1500 years old

Leather worker Ian Dunlop
Leather worker Ian Dunlop
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DELICATELY produced using the skin of a Roe Deer, it sounds like something from the latest high street range.

But Ian Dunlop’s satchels are actually based on 1500-year-old bags used by monks to ferry their religious texts as they spread the word about Christianity.

The city leatherworker, 30, was commissioned to recreate two ancient carriers using evidence gathered during archeological investigations.

Following a successful exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland last year, the craftsman’s work is going back on display for a fresh run in the Highlands.

Ian, who normally fashions traditional bags at his studio in Leith, said: “This was an unusual commission in that it was trying to create something without very much to go on.

“The designs were based on fragments of what they thought was a bag, found in a bog.

“We chose the materials by what we thought they would have used at the time – it was like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but one in which 70 per cent of the pieces were missing.”

The satchel made from the skin of a Roe Deer is based on leather fragments dating from the sixth or seventh centuries AD, found at Loch Glashan in Argyll.

The fragments indicate the bag was quite large, and could have held books such as the Book of Kells, one of the most famous early Christian manuscripts.

Monks would have used the satchels to move religious texts easily between places, helping to spread the word and convert Scotland to Christianity.

Poetry and sculpted stones which show monks carrying satchels also inspired the designs.

Ian, one of only a few traditional bag makers in Scotland, said: “I had never been involved in anything like this before so that was very exciting.”

The bags were commissioned as part of a research partnership between the National Museum and distiller the Glenmorangie Company to help interpret early historic Scotland between AD300 and 900.

They will now go on show at the Tarbat Discovery Centre in Portmahomack, Easter Ross.

Chairman of the centre Tony Watson said: “The museum is built on the site of an original monastery built by the Picts and therefore it is entirely fitting that the monks’ satchels should be displayed 
here.”

Hamish Torrie of The Glenmorangie Company said: “We are extremely proud of our Scottish roots, particularly the ancient art and culture of the Picts which is so much part of our heritage up here in the north of Scotland.”