A scalp was a pauper's hut dug into the Irish loam. They are most often referred to in writings and retellings of the 1800s, especially the Irish potato famine, but they are a fairly straightforward idea, and surely go back thousands of years.

To construct a scalp, one digs out loam, stacks it up around the side of the excavated hole, and then roofs over the pit in whatever manner one can -- sometimes thatch, sometimes blocks of loam supported by branches or crude beams. If constructed into the side of a hill, a scalp might have something approaching a door and windows on the downhill side; in flatter areas, it might look much more like an a cave or animal burrow dug in a hillock.

These were the homes of the landless laborer; some were described as ditches with a roof lain over them, and they might well be not much more than this; they would contain a fire pit, enough room to sit, sleep and cook, and that might well be it; wooden furniture was a luxury. They might also house the family's pigs, if any (a great way to turn food waste into meat or money).

A scalp that raised up a bit more above the ground, clearly recognizable as a human construction, might be called a 'scalpeen'; this appears to be constructed from the Gaelic suffix –ín, a diminutive, but in this case perhaps used as a pejorative. The scalpeens tended to use debris from ruined houses, sometimes being built within the rubble of a house pulled down by an angry landlord.

It should be noted that peat blocks are not a terrible building material, and small cottages made of peat blocks with proper roofs, windows, doors, and often a wall or two made of wood or stone would generally not be called a scalp; a scalp was a hopefully temporary, crudely constructed home built without the landowner's permission. However, during times of famine and societal collapse, boundaries blur, and what exactly counts as a scalp vs. a scalpeen vs. a peasant's hut might be a matter or personal opinion rather than fact.

Scalp (?), n. [Cf. Scallop.]

A bed of oysters or mussels.



© Webster 1913.

Scalp, n. [Perhaps akin to D. schelp shell. Cf. Scallop.]


That part of the integument of the head which is usually covered with hair.

By the bare scalp of Robin Hodd's fat friar, This fellow were a king for our wild faction! Shak.


A part of the skin of the head, with the hair attached, cut or torn off from an enemy by the Indian warriors of North America, as a token of victory.


Fig.: The top; the summit.


Scalp lock, a long tuft of hair left on the crown of the head by the warriors of some tribes of American Indians.


© Webster 1913.

Scalp, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Scalped (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Scalping.]


To deprive of the scalp; to cut or tear the scalp from the head of.

2. Surg.

To remove the skin of.

We must scalp the whole lid [of the eye]. J. S. Wells.

3. Milling.

To brush the hairs of fuzz from, as wheat grains, in the process of high milling.



© Webster 1913.

Scalp, v. i.

To make a small, quick profit by slight fluctuations of the market; -- said of brokers who operate in this way on their own account.



© Webster 1913.

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