Musical tuning peg from Edinburgh Castle and the stringing of medieval harps

Graeme Lawson (Author)

Dawn McLaren (Contributor)

Tuning peg, Harp, Musical instrument (integral)


A stray bone tuning peg from late medieval levels within Edinburgh Castle, the first such find to be published from Scotland, probably belonged to a small, wooden, metal-strung harp. Although it is simply made, its dimensions indicate that the lost instrument had been built to standard units of measurement (inches and fractions of an inch), was probably the product of a craft workshop and was therefore a valuable item of equipment. With the exception of an early antiquarian find from a bog in Co Antrim, of which only a drawing now remains, no such instrument has yet been found in these islands, but numerous images survive, especially in Insular manuscript miniatures. Some feature pegs and strings in the process of being tuned. Under the microscope, the object reveals surface textures that are closely consistent with such use, specifically with its insertion into a wooden socket and with repeated twisting there by means of a socketed metal key. Close to the string hole are oblique stains suggestive of a winding of metal wire. X-ray fluorescence analysis in the vicinity of these stains suggests long-term exposure to contamination from strings of copper alloy or from some nearby copper-alloy fitment. However, an unexpectedly strong iron signal from within the soil residues still packing the string hole leaves open the possibility of iron or steel wire.


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How to Cite
Lawson, G., & McLaren, D. (2017). Musical tuning peg from Edinburgh Castle and the stringing of medieval harps. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 146, 167–180.