DARK AGE SCOTLAND SETTLEMENTS

Monday, November 24, 2008



In 1992, winter storms at Bosta exposed a number of structures which, upon excavation, proved to be from Iron Age to Norse times. Three of the houses dated from the 6th to 8th centuries and had a figure of eight layout. A replica house has been built nearby, based on one of the excavated structures. While it is not known what the roof would have looked like the reconstruction gives a vivid impression of the amount of space available in such a house. Once inside you realise it is able to accommodate far more than one would imagine from the outside. The houses had a large main room about 6m in diameter with a smaller room - probably a store room - on the North side. The entrance is south-facing. The houses were built into the sand with double-skinned dry-stone walls. The circular shape would have resisted the pressure of the sand and has resulted in good long-term preservation.


While the elites were participating in an increasingly shared and internationally connected culture, there are regional differences in the archaeological record, particularly in settlements. In the south, among the British and Angles, slightly different forms of rectangular post-in-ground timber halls have been excavated on such sites as Doon Hill in the east and Whithorn in the west, some defended by palisades; similar forms appear to have been used by the southern Picts. (This thinking is based largely on the evidence of crop marks and soil marks visible in aerial photographs, however, and excavation is needed to confirm the dates of these structures. One such hall, believed to be early medieval, turned out to be three thousand years too old.) In the west, among the Britons and the Scots, are crannogs— natural or modified islands, usually with round timber and wattle houses. These are considered defended settlements because of the water barrier, and examples such as Buiston and Loch Glashan were high-status sites. Along the West Highland coast and in the Northern Isles, duns and brochs, large round drystone structures built in the Late Iron Age, were reoccupied, often with modifications, or cannibalized for the construction of more modest cellular or figure-of-eight houses. Figure-of-eight houses have been found from the Orkneys to County Antrim, Ireland, illustrating the wide spread of some elements of material culture. It is well to remember that the Picts and Scots were allies against the Romans, and both could assemble substantial fleets of ships, which would have been used to sail between the islands during peace as well as war.


The promontory fort at Burghead, in the northeast, is the largest fortified site of this period in Scotland, and it overlooks an excellent harbor. At least thirty stones carved with Pictish bull symbols were found there, and the wooden framework for its timber- laced ramparts was fastened with nails. The only other known example of nailed timber-laced ramparts is at Dundurn, another Pictish stronghold. Dundurn is a nuclear fort: it has a small citadel at the summit of a hill, with annexes built wherever the hill is relatively level. Britons and Scots as well as Picts used nuclear forts; the type site is Dunadd, the capital of Dál Riata. Fortified sites such as these forts and crannogs would have been the residences of royalty, and these sites have produced evidence for specialized craft working, particularly the production of fine metalwork, suggesting that smiths worked under the patronage or control of kings and other nobles.


Bostadh Iron Age House

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