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5 - The Use of Space in Norse Houses: Some Observations from the Hebrides

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 October 2023

Tom Horne
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Elizabeth Pierce
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
Rachel Barrowman
Affiliation:
University of Glasgow
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Summary

In this short chapter, I intend to briefly discuss the results of the recent excavation at the settlement of Bornais on the island of South Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland (Sharples 2005, 2012, 2020a and 2020b). The settlement at Bornais is located on the machair plain (a thick deposit of shell sand created by glacial activity) of the west coast of the island and is an unusually large settlement that covers approximately 4,625m2 and comprises five discrete settlement mounds. The principal focus for the settlement is Mound 2, the largest settlement mound, in which excavation revealed a sequence of three large high-status houses (Figure 5.1). Houses 1 and 2 were bow-walled longhouses characteristic of the Norse settlement of the North Atlantic. House 3, in contrast, was a rectangular house which was short and wide in comparison to the earlier houses.

The chronology of this mound has been determined by the acquisition of a large number of radiocarbon dates (Marshall et al. in Sharples 2020a) and large quantities of material culture including dateable items, such as coinage. These indicate that House 1 was built in the late 9th or early 10th century and was used until the middle of the 11th century (Sharples 2020a: 94). House 2 was built in the second half of the 11th century and was abandoned early in the 12th century (Sharples 2020a: 137). House 3 was constructed in the middle of the 13th century and was abandoned possibly as late as the early 14th century (Sharples 2020a: 383). It was constructed after a long period when there appears to be no high-status residence present on Mound 2.

The Early Norse houses

House 1 is approximately 23m long, but only small areas at the east and west end of this house were explored by our excavation, so understanding of this house is strictly limited (Sharples 2020a: 57). The east end was paved and an entrance was visible in the gable end. The west end, in contrast, had a charcoal-rich floor layer, and there was just enough excavated to reveal the presence of a central hearth area defined by thick deposits of peat ash.

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The Viking Age in Scotland
Studies in Scottish Scandinavian Archaeology
, pp. 75 - 84
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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