Broch, Crannog and Hillfort

Wednesday, December 30, 2015





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.

Archaeologists find 12,000-year-old pictograph at Gobeklitepe

Monday, July 20, 2015

The ‘Vulture-Stone’. Credit: Alistair Coombs

Aingi Oranais
Zon Staff

Excavations being conducted at the ancient city of Göbeklitepe in Turkey have uncovered an ancient pictograph on an obelisk which researchers say could be the earliest known pictograph ever discovered.

A pictograph is an image that conveys meaning through its resemblance to a physical object. Such images are most commonly found in pictographic writing, such as hieroglyphics or other characters used by ancient Sumerian and Chinese civilizations. Some non-literate cultures in parts of Africa, South America and Oceania still use them.

“The scene on the obelisk unearthed in Göbeklitepe could be construed as the first pictograph because it depicts an event thematically” explained Director of the Şanlıurfa Museum, Müslüm Ercan, to the Hurriyet Daily News. Ercan is leading the excavation at Göbeklitepe. “It depicts a human head in the wing of a vulture and a headless human body under the stela. There are various figures like cranes and scorpions around this figure. This is the portrayal of a moment; it could be the first example of pictograph. They are not random figures. We see this type of thing portrayal on the walls in 6,000-5,000 B.C. in Çatalhöyük [in modern-day western Turkey].”

The artifacts discovered in the ancient city have provided information about ancient burial traditions in the area in which bodies were left in the open for raptors such as vultures to consume. According to Mr Ercan, this enabled the soul of the deceased to be carried into the sky. It was called “burial in the sky” and was depicted on the obelisks in Göbeklitepe. Such rituals were conducted in and around the city around 12,000 years ago.

Many of the items discovered on the site have not been seen before anywhere else in the world and thus are the first of their kind to be discovered.

Göbeklitepe is situated on the top of a hill about 15 kilometres away from Sanliurfa in South-eastern Turkey. The city can be dated back to 10,000 BC and consists of a series of circular and oval shaped structures that were first excavated by Professor Klaus Schmidt supported by the German Archaeological Institute. Schmidt travelled to the site having heard about it from accounts of other previous visits by anthropologists from the University of Chicago and Istanbul University in the 1960’s. Both institutions ignored the site, believing it to be nothing more than a medieval graveyard.

Artifacts found on the site indicate that the city was intended for ritual use only and not as a domain for human occupation. Each of the 20 structures consists of a ring of walls surrounding two T-shaped monumental pillars between 3 metres (9 feet) and 6 metres high (19 feet) and weighing between 40 and 60 tons.

Archaeologists believe these pillars are stylised representations of human beings because of the human appendages carved into the stone. These images are accompanied by those of animals including foxes, snakes, wild boars, cranes and ducks. 

The archaeologists believe Göbeklitepe was used as a religious centre. Geo-radar work has revealed evidence of 23 temple structures in the area. Two of the obelisks in the city were constructed in the form of a letter T and are positioned opposite each other within a circle of smaller, round obelisks.
Ercan said that the museum at Şanlıurfa contains a small sculpture of a pig that was discovered in front of the central stelas in the ‘C’ temple at Göbeklitepe. Such statues may have depicted sacred beings.

Work on the basic infrastructure of a roof to cover the site and help preserve its structures and artefacts has just been completed, ready for the construction of the roof itself. This is an EU project and the archaeologists aim to complete it in eight months’ time.

Divination Shrines - Armenia

Monday, June 8, 2015

Each shrine consists of a single room with a clay basin filled with ash and ceramic vessels. A wide variety of finds were made in the shrines, including clay idols, stamp seals, censers used to burn materials, and large quantities of animal bones with markings etched into them. It is thought that during divination ceremonies rulers and diviners burnt substances and drank wine, possibly to induce an ‘altered’ state of mind.

“The logic of divination presumes that variable pathways articulate the past, present and future, opening the possibility that the link between a current situation and an eventual outcome might be altered,” write Adam Smith, professor at Cornell University, and Jeffrey Leon, a graduate student at Cornell, who excavated the shrines. Their discovery has been detailed in an article published recently in the American Journal of Archaeology.

Smith and Leon found examples of different types of divination. Knucklebones of bows, sheep and goats were found in Gegharot, indicating osteomancy (the practice of divination through the study of bones). “You would roll [the bones] and depending upon whether the scorched side or the marked side came up you would make a different interpretation,” Smith said.


In excavations from 2003–2011, archaeologists found three shrines about 3,300 years old nestled in an Armenian fortress in the town of Gegharot. Several similar installations were also constructed in Armenia at that time. They were most likely used for divination, probably as a way for local rulers to predict their futures.

Each one-room shrine contained a clay basin that held ash and ceramic vessels. Other artifacts suggest that the diviners drank wine and burned unknown substances to alter their mental states. “I would think that this is probably a cult center largely specializing in servicing the emerging rulers from the ruling class,” said Professor Adam Smith of Cornell University.

Armenia didn’t have a written language at this time, so the names of the rulers are not known. However, archaeologists discovered evidence at the site of three methods of divination: osteomancy, lithomancy, and aleuromancy.

Osteomancy uses animal bones to predict the future. You roll burned or otherwise marked knucklebones of cows, goats, or sheep. Your future depends on whether the marked or unmarked side of the bone comes up. With lithomancy, you supposedly use colored pebbles to foresee events, but the researchers don’t know how it was done. Finally, aleuromancy tells you what will happen using flour or baked dough balls, which may have been stamped with different shapes.

After about a century, the shrines were destroyed along with all the fortresses in this region, possibly in an event the overthrown rulers didn’t foresee.

Early Roman London

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Artist's impression of the Roman Londinium, looking at the first London Bridge. The muddy channels and islets in the foreground are the site of today's Shard.

While the coloniae at Colchester, Gloucester and Lincoln were deliberately founded by the Romans to bring `civilised' values to Britain, the circumstances surrounding the origins and early growth of London, where urban development began at much the same time as Colchester, may have been rather different.

The pace of modern construction in and around the City of London, whose boundaries are virtually the same as those of Roman Londinium, has been more rapid in recent years than almost anywhere in Europe, but this has brought enormous opportunities for archaeological research. It is now thought that, although there may have been some military involvement in the choice of the site itself, London's early development was largely undertaken by civilians. Most of them were presumably immigrants, either from other parts of Britain, seeking to escape hard, dull lives in native villages, or from Gaul and other Roman provinces, seeking new commercial opportunities. Many of these people clearly became prosperous as a result of trade, in some cases sea-borne long-distance trade with the rest of the empire. This is apparently confirmed by Tacitus who records that London was `an important centre for business-men (negotiatores) and merchandise'. A successful economic role was closely followed by the assumption of a political role, as London replaced Colchester, perhaps following the Boudiccan revolt, as the provincial capital of Britannia.

The City of London as the Romans found it was a site occupied by two low hills on the north bank of the Thames, separated by a small river now known as the Walbrook which still runs in a culvert below the street of that name. On the river bank was a shelving foreshore, ideal for the drawing up of small boats.

Human activity over the centuries has, of course, radically altered the natural contours and riverside, but the hills would have been more prominent to Roman eyes than might be supposed today, since the Thames is now at an appreciably higher level than it was in the first century.

London ousted Colchester as capital because it was a better communications centre. The Thames was a natural highway to the coast and continent, and London is the lowest point where the river can be easily crossed, before it reaches the sea, on the road from the ports at Richborough and Dover to the interior of the province. While it is not clear if the Romans appreciated this at the time of the invasion, and one theory is that a crossing was made upstream at Westminster, they soon found that by using a natural causeway over the low sandy islands on the otherwise marshy south bank of the Thames, a more satisfactory river crossing could be made close to where present-day London Bridge now stands. Excavations in Southwark have shown that the main road from the south lay immediately to the west of Borough High Street and was probably in existence by AD 50. Of particular interest in these excavations has been the discovery of numerous irregular coins of the Emperor Claudius, which were minted in Colchester for purposes of army pay when official coins were in short supply. Their presence in Southwark not only gives a date for the early roads, but suggests the involvement of the army in construction.

The Roman colony at Colchester

Plan of the principal sites of the late Iron Age and Roman periods in the Colchester area (drawn by Glenys Boyles; Colchester Museum)

Plan of the Roman colonia at Colchester showing the line of the Roman fortress defences and location of principal buildings and other finds (Colchester Archaeological Trust)

On approaching the Essex market town of Colchester by road, you will be greeted at the town boundary by a sign which bears the words `Welcome to Colchester- Britain's Oldest Recorded Town'. The visitor may, however, be forgiven for asking what this town consisted of. To the classical scholar the `-chester' element in the modern name, derived from the latin castra, a camp, suggests a Roman origin, but virtually all that is recognisably `historic' in Colchester is a few stretches of town wall and the Norman castle. The disappearance of the tangible remains of Colchester's past is, of course, largely due to the growth and accompanying rebuilding of the town in the twentieth century, which has culminated in some major redevelopment projects in the 1970s and 1980s. It was in advance of these redevelopments, however, that a remarkable series of excavations made discoveries vital not only for understanding Colchester's Roman past, but also the origins of urbanism in Britain.

In essence Roman civilisation was an urban civilisation based on a network of city states which acted as centres for all the economic, political, social and religious life of their region. As we have already noted, these cities were graded according to legal status and this in turn determined the inhabitant's status, including tax liability and level of punishment in the event of wrongdoing. Every town in the empire was, up to a point, organised along the lines of Rome itself, with a town council, or ordo, nominally made up of one hundred decuriones who qualified to serve on the basis of a property qualification. They elected four magistrates annually, two to act as justices and two to carry out public works. Although Rome itself did not have much of a clear and ordered plan, provincial towns usually bore some resemblance to a Roman ideal. The principal streets were laid out on a rectilinear grid pattern which divided the urban area into what were known as insulae (islands). The central insulae were occupied by the public buildings which included the forum, essentially a large courtyard, often used as a market, which was enclosed on three sides by shops or offices behind a colonnaded portico and on the fourth by the basilica, a hall in which administrative and judicial business was conducted. In adjacent insulae there would usually be a public bath house, temple to the Roman gods and, on occasions, a theatre.

In Britain the Romans encountered a country without towns, a country where the vast majority of the population lived in small villages or isolated farmsteads. In order to conquer, govern and tax the Britons, therefore, the Roman administration had to create towns. This involved stimulating a taste for urban living, and a willingness on the part of the leaders of native British society to adopt the Roman custom of paying for public works as a way of expressing their social status. A reference to the problem of changing the life-style of the native Britons is specifically made by Tacitus in a well-known passage in his biography of Agricola, Governor of Britain from AD 78 to 84:

Agricola had to deal with people living in isolation and ignorance, and therefore prone to fight; and his object was to accustom them to a life of peace and quiet by the provision of amenities. He therefore gave private encouragement and official assistance to the building of temples, public squares, and good houses.

In the light of this passage it is, perhaps, no accident that one of the earliest mosaics in the palace at Fishbourne, near Chichester, probably built to ensure the loyalty of a native British king, is a simplified representation of a Roman town with walls, gates and a street grid. It is, to a great extent, by the success of urbanisation that we may measure the success of the Roman conquest of Britain.

Armed with this yardstick, we may now ask why the Romans chose to start at Colchester. The answer is that one of the principal centres of British resistance to the Roman invasion in AD 43 was a site at Gosbecks, now on the south-western outskirts of the modern town. This was the headquarters of the Trinovantes, one of the dominant peoples of south-eastern England in the early first century AD. They were ruled in 43 by the sons of King Cunobelin who had been leader of the Catuvellauni, another important tribe with a base at Verulamium. All that survives above ground today of the native capital at Colchester is a series of prominent linear earthworks, or dykes, and a burial mound known as the Lexden tumulus. These sites have been the subject of considerable speculation since at least the eighteenth century, and in 1759 they were drawn and mapped by the famous antiquary William Stukeley, inventor of druidic mythology, who also suggested that The Mount, a surviving Roman burial mound, was Cunobelin's grave


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.

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.

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