Broch, Crannog and Hillfort

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


Broch

Crannóg

Hillfort

GLOSSARY

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Adze Axe-like wood-working tool, but with blade at right-angles to the handle, used with pick-like motion.
Awl A pointed tool of flint, bone or bronze, used for making holes in skins, etc.
Barrow An earthen burial mound, either circular or rectangular in plan.
Burin Engraving or piercing tool, used with rotary action.
Berm Flat platform separating a mound or bank from a quarry ditch.
Cairn A heap of stones, varying in size, usually covering a burial.
Carinated A shoulder or sharp change in direction in the profile of a pot.
Chape Decorative terminal of a sword scabbard.
Cist Small rectangular pit lined with stone slabs and covered with a capstone; often a grave.
Corbelling Roofing method in which successive layers of stone rise one above the other and overlap inwards until they meet.
Cursus Long, narrow parallel-sided enclosure of the neolithic period.
Dolerite Basaltic type rock used for making axes, also in the construction of Stonehenge.
Dysse Long megalithic burial mound found in Denmark.
Gabbroic clay Clay containing crystals of the igneous rock gabbro from the Lizard peninsula.
Graver Engraving tool made from pointed, longitudinal flake, used with a straight action.
Hafted axe Axe with a wooden handle.
Halberd Bronze Age dagger at right angles to a wooden handle with metal rivets.
Henge Later neolithic circular enclosure surrounded by a bank and internal ditch, broken by one or more entrances.
Hunebeden Long megalithic burial mound found in the Netherlands.
Inhumation An unburnt human burial.
Machair Gaelic word describing lush meadowland.
Mattock Heads Pick-like tool with chisel shaped blade.
Megalithic Constructed of large stones, e.g. Stonehenge.
Midden Rubbish dump, often composed of discarded shells, bones or charcoal.
Quern Two stones used for grinding corn, either by rubbing backwards and forwards, or revolving one upon another
Revetment A facing of timber, stone or turf intended to stop the sides of a bank or mound collapsing.
Scalene triangle Unequal sided microlith, probably used as an arrow tip.
Sherds Fragments of broken pottery.
Skeuomorph An imitation.
Spelt A species of wheat: triticum spelta.
Tanged Projection at base of dagger or arrowhead used to fasten it to a handle.
Temenos Spacious enclosure of ‘consecrated’ land, attached to a temple.
Trepanation A form of brain surgery practised in the Bronze Age.

REFLECTIONS ON THE ANGLO-SAXON HOUSE

Thursday, March 26, 2015



The archaeological evidence for Anglo-Saxon timber buildings is relatively limited in comparison to that of their continental counterparts, due to the lack of waterlogged settlements with preserved timbers and the relatively small scale (by continental standards) of most settlement excavations in Britain. In the first major survey of the evidence for the Anglo-Saxon house, published in 1958, Radford predicted that ground-level timber farmhouses similar to those at Warendorf would be found in England, were large-scale excavation to be adopted (Radford 1958, 28). Very shortly thereafter ground-level timber buildings were indeed recognized in England, but these were smaller and appeared less complex than the longhouses of continental farmsteads. They averaged around 10 to 12 m in length, lacked cattle byres, and supported the weight of the roof on the walls instead of on internal rows of posts. Even the larger buildings which began to be built in England at the end of the sixth and early seventh centuries, for example, at Cowdery's Down, Hants (Fig. 3.28; Millett 1984), appear to represent a distinctive architectural form which, while incorporating some continental features, did not closely resemble either the aisled longhouse of the Migration period or the later `Warendorf type' house.

The progress made in the forty years since Radford described the study of the Anglo-Saxon house as `one of the most intractable problems in the whole range of early medieval studies' (1958, 27) has been little short of revolutionary, yet key questions concerning the origins of Anglo-Saxon timber buildings, their chronological and regional development, and their functions remain unresolved.

Chronological Development
No detailed building typology comparable with those devised for Dutch, German, and Scandinavian longhouses exists for Anglo-Saxon timber buildings. The tiny number of well-dated buildings must be largely to blame for this, along with the irregularity and incompleteness of many excavated ground-plans. Furthermore, if the buildings of the fifth and sixth centuries represent a process of hybridization of indeginous and continental forms, as seems likely (see below), then this too could also help account for the lack of obvious `types'.

Some chronological trends in Anglo-Saxon buildings are nevertheless apparent. Recent work by Marshall and Marshall suggests that fifth-century buildings were uniformly small (i. e. less than 12 m in length), aligned east-west, and built using individual posthole construction (Marshall and Marshall 1993; Hamerow 1999a, fig. 3). An internal partition, usually at the east end, survives in roughly 25 per cent of buildings, a proportion which remained roughly constant throughout the fifth to seventh centuries. This formed a separate compartment which could be entered via an external as well as an internal entrance. The sixth century saw somewhat greater variation in the lengths and proportions of buildings. The use of foundation trenches was introduced towards the end of the century. The first large halls (i. e. with floor areas greater than 150m2) appeared c. 600. Very small buildings (i. e. less than 6 m in length) also became more common in the seventh century. Roughly half of seventh-century buildings were constructed using foundation trenches, and for the first time a significant proportion, roughly one-third, were aligned north-south. By the eighth and ninth centuries foundation trenches were used in more than 75 per cent of buildings, and a wider range of proportions came into use as the more coherent building tradition of the earlier period broke down, reflecting in part the emergence of monasteries and high-status secular centres. Of course, difficulties exist with this scheme, not least because of the small number of buildings (fewer than thirty) which can be closely dated.

Function
What little evidence survives for the layout of the Anglo-Saxon house suggests that, in contrast to the longhouse, it consisted essentially of one room, often with a small subdivision at one end. Very few Anglo-Saxon buildings contained traces of contemporary hearths, although this is likely to be due to poor preservation. 14 How we should interpret the one- or two-roomed Anglo-Saxon house is far from clear; indeed, not all timber buildings need have been houses. Cooking, storage, and so on may have been sited in separate buildings, as was the case in northern Germany and the Netherlands by the seventh or eighth centuries and in England by the tenth century, to judge from law-codes and other documents (Dölling 1958, 55 ff.).

Two explanations are generally put forward to account for the lack of a byre in Anglo-Saxon houses. The first is that the milder English winters eliminated the need to stable cattle indoors (Addyman 1972; Rahtz 1976, 61). While this may be part of the explanation (cf. Zimmermann 1999a; 1999b), it is worth noting that in Iron Age Denmark the longhouse remained in use even during warmer climatic cycles. It has also been suggested that cattle were simply less important in the Anglo-Saxon economy. While the proportion of cattle to sheep does indeed seem to have been lower than in continental Europe, the social value of cattle remained high, and Anglo-Saxon laws show them to have been the most highly valued farm animal. A third possibility, that there was strong cultural resistance to the concept of a `byre-house' by a romanized population (Roymans, pers. comm. 1998) appears anomalous in view of the widespread adoption of continental styles of dress, burial rites, and pottery and the close correlations in dimensions and layout between at least some English and continental buildings. The absence of the longhouse certainly implies a different relationship between the household and the animals which formed its chief source of wealth, but this is unlikely to be the result of a clash between `romanized' and `barbarian' ideologies.

Conclusion The apparent absence in England of houses with byres and internal roof-supporting posts remains, nevertheless, a largely unresolved problem. Why, when use of other forms of Germanic material culture (costume and dress ornaments, for example) was reinforced to act as group markers, should the longhouse, for centuries the traditional farmhouse, be given up so readily and so comprehensively when the sunken-featured building was retained? This seeming paradox is still more puzzling in view of cross-cultural studies which suggest that architecture `becomes so identified with groups, cultures and lifestyles that it is essential in order to feel at home', and that the re-creation by immigrants of their own architectural forms is an important factor in their adjustment to a new environment(Rapoport 1979, 16).

Two explanations for the absence of the longhouse in England and the origins of the Anglo-Saxon house are generally posited. The first is that `Germanic immigrants [adopted] British buildings . . . but still used their own constructional techniques developed . . . to imitate the fine stone buildings of early times' (James et al. 1985, 206). This appears to be ruled out by the close similarities in layout between the Anglo-Saxon house and timber buildings in regions well beyond the imperial frontier. The alternative is that many of the inhabitants of the Anglo-Saxon house were descendants of the Romano-British population who nevertheless sought to emulate the politically and socially ascendant group, in part by adopting their architectural forms as well as their burial rites and costume (ibid.). This is a much more likely scenario. We should, therefore, seek to explain the absence of the longhouse in England through the dual processes of migration and acculturation, and the resultant changes in the composition and economy of the household. The fact that sunken-featured buildings are found throughout early Anglo-Saxon England in a form apparently unchanged from the continent suggests strongly that the key issue behind the absence of the longhouse is not ethnic identity. The construction of a longhouse and associated buildings as seen in the enclosed, ancestral farmstead complexes of northwest Europe was a social act as much as a technical one; it required access not only to substantial material capital (i. e. timber) but also to considerable social capital in the form of reciprocal labour obligations. Such an undertaking would have required the voluntary assistance of an extended group beyond the household, possibly even beyond the village, and it seems likely that households in the fifth and sixth centuries simply did not have access to sufficient `social capital'.

More puzzling, perhaps, than the absence of the longhouse in England is the absence of an English version of the `Warendorf house'. Earlier in this chapter it was established that the building sequences seen in the Netherlands, Germany, and southern Scandinavia all reflect a general trend towards roof supports set within the walls, with external raking posts and bowed long walls. Variations of the `Warendorf house' are found all along the North Sea coast and in Denmark. It is all the more striking, then, that they do not make an appearance in England, where rectangular buildings continued to be built as before, although with more varied proportions and wall constructions and with an increased use of post-in-trench and plank-in-trench foundations which allowed for the construction of larger buildings. Relatively few eighth-century Anglo-Saxon building plans have yet been published, however, particularly from the trading settlements known as wics, and a closer examination of the buildings of this period is clearly called for. Even so, it is striking that the long-standing links between timber building traditions on the continent and in England appear to have weakened from the later seventh and eighth centuries, precisely when economic, artistic, and political links flourished.

Divers find prehistoric forest dating back 10,000 years submerged in North Sea off Norfolk coast

Monday, February 2, 2015


The trees were part of land that once stretched all the way to Germany.

 Lizzie Dearden 

The remains of a prehistoric forest dating back 10,000 years has been found by amateur divers off the coast of Norfolk.

The trees, which once stretched from England to Germany, have been submerged for millennia beneath the North Sea and were covered by layers of sand before being revealed by stormy seas.
Divers Dawn Watson and Rob Spray, from volunteer group Seasearch, were studying marine life just 300m from the shore at Cley when they made the discovery.

“I set off north and I’d been swimming for about 15 minutes before I came to anything,” Ms Watson, 45, told the BBC. 

“It was a great wave of black stuff in front of me and it took me a while to work out what it was but it was just wood, shaped like a wave.

“To start with I thought it was a piece of wreck because it looked like a piece of hull…it’s the remains of a forest, probably oak trees that have been knocked flat, presumably by outwash from a glacier.”

Some of the wood was compressed but whole tree trunks with branches could be seen, with starfish and crabs making knots in the wood their home.

The preserved forest was part of the former landmass known as Doggerland, which connected the UK to mainland Europe until after the last Ice Age, when it was flooded by rising sea levels.
Boats have salvaged mammoth and lion fossils from the sea, as well as prehistoric tools and weapons, but scientists had no idea the forest could still be seen so close to the Norfolk shore.

Doggerland was once so vast that hunter-gatherers who could have walked to Germany across its land mass, the BBC reported.

“At one time it would have been a full-blown Tolkien-style forest, stretching for hundreds of miles,” Mr Spray told the Eastern Daily Press.

“It would have grown and grown and in those days there would have been no one to fell it, so the forest would have been massive.”


An ancient forest was revealed by storms on stretches of the beach between Borth and Ynyslas.
 
Last winter’s storm also revealed prehistoric forests off the west coast of Wales and in Cornwall.

Gnarled tree stumps and roots, believed to be dating from the Bronze Age, have become visible for the first time after peat was washed away on the shore near the village of Borth, Ceredigion.

The heavy winds and rain also shifted swathes shingle and sand on Cornish beaches, to reveal trunks of oak, beech and pine near Penzance in Mount's Bay.

Birsay

Tuesday, December 16, 2014



The Brough of Birsay, a tidal island, is one of the bestknown archaeological sites in Orkney, projecting out into the Atlantic at the northwest corner of Birsay Bay and separated by the 238-m-wide Brough Sound from the Point of Buckquoy. Its name derives from Old Norse borg (fortress or stronghold), which can refer to either a broch (a fortified dwelling), or, as is more likely in this case, the natural defensive qualities of an island difficult of access.

The earliest archaeological work on this site appears to have been by Sir Henry Dryden in 1870, who cleared out the chapel. The site came into the care of the secretary of state for Scotland in 1934, and considerable clearance and excavation took place to prepare the site for the general public. This work was curtailed with the outbreak of World War II, but the finds from the excavations have been published by C. L. Curle, along with the finds from the later campaigns of C. A. R. Radford and S. H. Cruden in the 1950s and 1960s. Interim accounts of aspects of the later work have been published. Earlier structural elements uncovered below the chapel have generally been associated with the pre-Norse church. However, these earlier structural elements no longer need to be associated with the so-called Celtic church but, by analogy with the Brough of Deerness and Brattahlid in Greenland, may be dated to the Norse period. 

Work was resumed on a small scale in 1973; in the area to the east of the chapel, Room 5 was excavated. Essentially, four major periods were distinguished. From analysis of the associated finds, together with some radiocarbon C-14 (ninth century or later) dating, the first may be assigned to the pre-Norse (Pictish) phase (pre-800) and the later three to the Norse. Only the last phase relates to the laid-out, standing building. Following this work, a renewed large-scale series of excavations was begun by J. R. Hunter and C. D. Morris in 1974 and continued until 1982. There is now clear evidence from the Brough of Birsay for many buildings (far more, across a wider area, than originally envisaged) dating to the Norse and Pictish periods. There is also clear evidence here for multiphase activity, with the replacement of buildings and often their complete reorientation in relation to the local topography. 

There has been much discussion of the significance of the entries in the Orkneyinga Saga concerning the "minster dedicated to Christ" at Birsay established by Earl Thorfinn the Mighty. Both Radford and Cruden take the view that the buildings mentioned in the Saga can be identified with structures excavated on the brough. Others (e. g., the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland; R. G. Lamb) see these structures as twelfth century (rather than eleventh) and monastic in character and favor a location for the "minster" in the village area. In 1982, excavations took place under the direction of Barber in advance of restoration of the parish church of St. Magnus. Structural elements uncovered below the present church have been accorded a probable twelfth-century date, and it is suggested that the present building was preceded by a pre- Reformation church of some sophistication. However, the dating accorded to the remains does not enable firm associations with the historical data, and so it cannot yet be claimed that the "minster" was originally located in the village. 

Norse Christianity clearly focused upon Birsay, but once the cathedral was built in Kirkwall, the focus of secular and ecclesiastical power shifted away. Little is known of events here between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries. However, by the sixteenth century, much of Birsay had been transferred from the hands of the earl of Orkney to the bishops of Orkney, and in that century it is clear that the bishops used a palace hereabouts. In the sixteenth century, an otherwise unknown writer, "Jo Ben," described Birsay as having "an excellent palace"; according to local tradition, the presence of walls and other features in the area to the south of the parish church may relate to this palace. 

The significance of Birsay in the sixteenth century is reinforced by the building of an imposing Earl's Palace to the north of the Burn of Boardhouse. This was constructed with ranges of buildings around a courtyard with projecting rectangular towers at three corners, perhaps dated to 1574. It is probable that, in the construction of the Earl's Palace, stones from the older Bishop's Palace were reused. However, the regained significance of Birsay was short lived, and P. D. Anderson (1983) has suggested that deterioration of the Earl's Palace is recorded from as early as 1653. The gaunt ruins of the palace are perhaps visible reminders of what has been described as the "dark period" of Orkney's history under the Stewart earls. 

There are clear indications that buildings from the Viking and late Norse periods remain to be discovered in the area to the south of the village. The place-name Tuftaback, bank or slope of house sites, might well be equated with the area to the south of the Burn of Boardhouse. Here, buildings and middens of some complexity have been uncovered on top of a mound site composed of archaeological deposits presumably going back into prehistory. A second such mound site almost certainly exists below an adjacent modern building and extends down to the riverbank. 

Beyond the village to the south are the Links, at the southern end of which is Saevar Howe, another multiperiod mound site, which was examined in the nineteenth century by Farrer and more recently by J. W. Hedges. Pictish buildings here were apparently built on top of a prehistoric site and were themselves superseded by Viking Age dwellings. On top of these were the remains of a Christian Norse cemetery-although not recognized as such in the nineteenth century. 

Cemeteries from both the Roman Iron Age/Pictish and the Viking periods have also been recognized from the area between the village and the brough to the north. The earlier burials are marked by cist graves below mounds of sand and stone cairns, without accompanying grave goods. The later burials were either in cists or simply dug into the contemporary ground surface, but they were accompanied by grave goods recognizably Viking in form and date. 

Radiocarbon determinations have confirmed these chronological attributions. Even earlier, the area was clearly of significance in the earlier Iron Age (structural evidence) and the Bronze Age (midden deposits). Fragmentary traces of settlement remains of the Viking period have also been excavated in this area, with accompanying rich midden deposits, and a characteristic figure-eight-shaped dwelling from the late Pictish period. This series of excavations directed by Morris between the village and the brough has received full publication. Of particular interest and significance was the nearby site at Buckquoy excavated by A. Ritchie. Here, a Pictish farmstead was uncovered, of two major periods, succeeded by a Norse farmstead. It has also been suggested that the evidence points to some degree of coexistence by the two groups. 

Extensive archaeological research supports the conclusion, derived from written sources, that Birsay was a center of political and ecclesiastical power during the Viking and late Norse periods. In addition, there is also evidence to support Birsay's importance in the preceding Pictish period, together with its imperfectly understood role in prehistoric Orkney.

 
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