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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.
Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian chronological modelling have provided precise new dating for the henge monument of Mount Pleasant in Dorset, excavated in 1970–1. A total of 59 radiocarbon dates are now available for the site and modelling of these has provided a revised sequence for the henge enclosure and its various constituent parts: the timber palisaded enclosure, the Conquer Barrow, and the ditch surrounding Site IV, a concentric timber and stone monument. This suggests that the henge was probably built in the 26th century cal bc, shortly followed by the timber palisade and Site IV ditch. These major construction events took place in the late Neolithic over a relatively short timespan, probably lasting 35–125 years. The principal results are discussed for each element of the site, including comparison with similar monument types elsewhere in Britain and Ireland, and wider implications for late Neolithic connections and later activity at the site associated with Beaker pottery are explored.
At archaeological sites located on islands or near the coast, the potential exists for lipid extracts of potsherds to contain fatty acids (FA) from both aquatic and terrestrial organisms, meaning that consideration must be given to marine reservoir effects (MRE) in radiocarbon (14C) analyses. Here we studied the site of Bornais (Outer Hebrides, UK) where a local MRE, ΔR of –65 ± 45 yr was determined through the paired 14C determinations of terrestrial and marine faunal bones. Lipid analysis of 49 potsherds, revealed aquatic biomarkers in 45% of the vessels, and δ13C values of C16:0 and C18:0 FAs revealed ruminant and marine product mixing for 71% of the vessels. Compound-specific 14C analysis (CSRA) of FAs yielded intermediate 14C ages between those of terrestrial and marine bones from the same contexts, confirming an MRE existed. A database containing δ13C values for FAs from reference terrestrial and marine organisms provided endmembers for calculating the percentage marine-derived C (%marine) in FAs. We show that lipid 14C dates can be corrected using determined %marine and ΔR values, such that pottery vessels from coastal locations can be 14C dated by CSRA of FAs.
Causewayed enclosures have recently been at the forefront of debate within British and European Neolithic studies. In the British Isles as a whole, the vast majority of these monuments are located in southern England, but a few sites are now beginning to be discovered beyond this core region. The search in Wales had seen limited success, but in the 1990s a number of cropmark discoveries suggested the presence of such enclosures west of the River Severn. Nonetheless, until now only two enclosures have been confirmed as Neolithic in Wales – Banc Du (in Pembrokeshire) and Womaston (in Powys) – although neither produced more than a handful of sherds of pottery, flint or other material culture. Recent work by the authors at the Iron Age hillfort of Caerau, Cardiff, have confirmed the presence of another, large, Early Neolithic causewayed enclosure in the country. Excavations of the enclosure ditches have produced a substantial assemblage of bowl pottery, comparable with better-known enclosures in England, as well as ten radiocarbon dates. This paper provides a complete review of the evidence for Neolithic enclosures in Wales, and discusses the chronology and context of the enclosures based on the new radiocarbon dates and material assemblages recovered from Caerau.
This is an interesting and important paper that argues in a reasoned and convincing manner for a new approach to an archaeology of houses. It uses as an archaeological case study the evidence from the southern Netherlands but the approach presented here has a much wider application and the results are directly relevant to a very large area of northern Europe. I originally heard this paper delivered as a lecture at a conference on settlement studies where it came amid a succession of papers debating detailed structural typologies of Iron Age long houses and others providing increasingly detailed scientific analysis of cattle byres. I had already made one abortive attempt to suggest there was a more interesting way of thinking about houses but this was most clearly demonstrated by the paper presented here.
The brochs, great stone towers of Iron Age Scotland, are famously puzzling. Who inhabited these strongholds (if habitations they were)? New fieldwork at the broch of Dun Vulan, on South Uist in the Western Isles, prompts reappraisal of the geographical and social context of the brochs, by developing untapped sources of social evidence.
This paper is an exploration of the chronological development of a series of
elaborate and architecturally distinctive chambered tombs on the Islands of
Orkney. It begins with a short critique of the present views of the Orcadian
Neolithic and highlights a failure to understand chronological developments
as the most significant problem. Thus after a brief classification of the
monuments there is a detailed discussion of the chronological evidence which
consciously avoids typological assumptions. This is followed by an
examination of the various uses the tombs were put to and involves an
assessment of the location and architectural visibility of the monuments and
the remains found in the chamber. When combined with the chronological
evidence a series of changes in monument size, type, location and use can be
hypothesized for the neolithic period. This culminates in a shift away from
burial monuments to physically defined spaces, presumably used for
ceremonial purposes. These changes can be interpreted as deliberate
manipulation by groups within that society to change the ideological
concepts which defined the role of the individual in relation to the other
members of the society.
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