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To Cut a Long Story Short: Formal Chronological Modelling for the Late Neolithic Site of Ness of Brodgar, Orkney

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2017

Nick Card
Affiliation:
The University of the Highlands and Islands, Kirkwall, Orkney, UK
Ingrid Mainland
Affiliation:
The University of the Highlands and Islands, Kirkwall, Orkney, UK
Scott Timpany
Affiliation:
The University of the Highlands and Islands, Kirkwall, Orkney, UK
Roy Towers
Affiliation:
The University of the Highlands and Islands, Kirkwall, Orkney, UK
Cathy Batt
Affiliation:
University of Bradford, Bradford, UK
Christopher Bronk Ramsey
Affiliation:
Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Oxford, UK
Elaine Dunbar
Affiliation:
SUERC Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory, East Kilbride, UK
Paula Reimer
Affiliation:
14CHRONO Centre, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
Alex Bayliss
Affiliation:
Historic England, London, UK
Peter Marshall
Affiliation:
Historic England, London, UK
Alasdair Whittle
Affiliation:
Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK

Abstract

In the context of unanswered questions about the nature and development of the Late Neolithic in Orkney, we present a summary of research up to 2015 on the major site at the Ness of Brodgar, Mainland Orkney, concentrating on the impressive buildings. Finding sufficient samples for radiocarbon dating was a considerable challenge. There are indications, from both features and finds, of activity pre-dating the main set of buildings exposed so far by excavation. Forty-six dates on thirty-nine samples are presented and are interpreted in a formal chronological framework. Two models are presented, reflecting different possible readings of the sequence. Both indicate that piered architecture was in use by the thirtieth century cal bc and that the massive Structure 10, not the first building in the sequence, was also in existence by the thirtieth century cal bc. Activity associated with piered architecture came to an end (in Model 2) around 2800 cal bc. Midden and rubble infill followed. After an appreciable interval, the hearth at the centre of Structure 10 was last used around 2500 cal bc, perhaps the only activity in an otherwise abandoned site. The remains of some 400 or more cattle were deposited over the ruins of Structure 10: in Model 2, in the mid-twenty-fifth century cal bc, but in Model 1 in the late twenty-fourth or twenty-third century cal bc. The chronologies invite comparison with the near-neighbour of Barnhouse, in use from the later thirty-second to the earlier twenty-ninth century cal bc, and the Stones of Stenness, probably erected by the thirtieth century cal bc. The Ness, including Structure 10, appears to have outlasted Barnhouse, but probably did not endure as long in its primary form as previously envisaged. The decay and decommissioning of the Ness may have coincided with the further development of the sacred landscape around it; but precise chronologies for other sites in the surrounding landscape are urgently required. The spectacular feasting remains of several hundred cattle deposited above Structure 10 may belong to a radically changing world, coinciding (in Model 2) with the appearance of Beakers nationally, but it was arguably the, by now, mythic status of that building which drew people back to it.

Dans le cadre des questions pas encore résolues sur la nature et l’évolution du Néolithique récent dans les Orcades nous présentons un sommaire des recherches menées jusqu'en 2015 sur le site du Ness of Brodgar sur l'île principale (Mainland) et en particulier ses imposantes structures bâties. L'identification d’échantillons pour datation radiocarbone suffisamment fiables a constitué un défi majeur. Certains indices parmi les objets et les éléments structurels découverts démontrent que le site a été occupé avant le principal ensemble de bâtiments fouillés à ce jour. Ici nous présentons quarante-six dates obtenues sur trente-neuf échantillons et proposons une modélisation chronologique. Deux modèles représentent deux lectures distinctes de la séquence chrono-stratigraphique. Les deux démontrent que l'architecture sur piliers existait au trentième siècle av. J.-C. (cal bc) et que la Structure 10, immense et non pas le premier bâtiment érigé sur le site, était en place au trentième siècle cal bc. L'occupation associée à cette architecture sur piliers prit fin (selon le Modèle 2) autour de 2800 cal bc. Des dépôts de déchets et de déblais vinrent ensuite s'amonceler sur le site. Au bout d'un intervalle assez considérable un foyer situé au centre de la Structure 10 constitue peut-être le seul indice d'occupation sur un site autrement abandonné, et celle-ci prit fin autour de 2500 cal bc. Les restes d'environs 400 bovins ont été déposés sur les vestiges de la Structure 10, au milieu du vingt-cinquième siècle cal bc (selon le Modèle 2) ou vers la fin du vingt-quatrième ou vingt-troisième siècle cal bc (selon le Modèle 1). Ces chronologies donnent lieu à des comparaisons avec le site voisin de Barnhouse, occupé entre la fin du trente-deuxième et le début du vingt-neuvième siècle cal bc et avec le site des Stones of Stenness vraisemblablement construit au trentième siècle cal bc. Le Ness of Brodgar, y compris la Structure 10, semble avoir survécu à Barnhouse, mais il n'a probablement pas continué longtemps sous sa forme originale comme on l'avait envisagé autrefois. Le déclin et le démantèlement du Ness of Brodgar a peut-être coïncidé avec une évolution ultérieure du paysage sacré qui l'entourait mais il nous manque encore des chronologies précises pour les sites avoisinants. Les vestiges spectaculaires de festins qui ont recouvert la Structure 10 font peut-être partie d'un monde qui a changé de façon radicale et qui correspond (selon le Modèle 2) à l'arrivée des vases campaniformes dans les Iles Britanniques. Cependant c'est sans doute la position dorénavant mythique que ce bâtiment occupait dans l'esprit des gens qui a continué à les attirer. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

Im Rahmen von offengebliebenen Fragen über den Charakter und die Entwicklung des Spätneolithikums auf Orkney legen wir eine Zusammenfassung der bis 2015 unternommenen Untersuchungen im Ness of Brodgar auf der Hauptinsel (Mainland) vor. Die eindrucksvollen Bauten, die dort gefunden worden sind, bilden den Schwerpunkt. Es erwies sich als besonders schwierig, ausreichende Proben für Radiokarbon Datierungen zu finden. Die Funde und Befunde zeigen, dass eine frühere Phase, die vor den Hauptbauten, die bislang ausgegraben worden sind, auf dem Ness of Brodgar vorhanden ist. Sechsundvierzig Datierungen (auf neununddreißig Proben) werden hier vorgelegt und in einem neuen chronologischen Schema ausgewertet. Wir schlagen zwei Modelle vor, die zwei unterschiedliche Varianten der zeitlichen Abfolge widerspiegeln. Beide zeigen, dass Steinpfeiler in der Architektur des 30. Jahrhunderts v.Chr. (cal bc) verwendet wurden und dass die massive Struktur 10, die nicht das erste Gebäude in der Abfolge war, auch zum 30. Jahrhundert cal bc gehört. Die Tätigkeit, die mit der Steinpfeilerarchitektur in Zusammenhang stand, endete (laut Modell 2) rund um 2800 cal bc. Abfallhaufen und Schuttablagerungen folgten danach. Nach einem beträchtlichen Zeitabstand wurde eine Feuerstelle in der Mitte der Struktur 10, vielleicht der einzige Beleg für eine sonst verlassene Siedlung, errichtet und letztmals um 2500 cal bc genutzt. Die Reste von über 400 Rindern wurden auf den Ruinen der Struktur 10 niedergelegt; im zweiten Modell geschah das in der Mitte des 25. Jahrhunderts cal bc, aber im ersten Modell fand das im späten 24. oder im 23. Jahrhundert cal bc statt. Diese chronologischen Modelle laden zu einem Vergleich mit der nachbarlichen Siedlung von Barnhouse ein; die letztere ist vom späteren 32. Jahrhundert bis zum früheren 29. Jahrhundert cal bc belegt, und die Stones of Stenness Stätte wurde wahrscheinlich im 30. Jahrhundert cal bc errichtet. Die Siedlung vom Ness of Brodgar, samt Struktur 10, scheint Barnhouse überdauert zu haben, aber wahrscheinlich nicht so lange in ihrer ursprünglichen Form wie man es früher gedacht hatte. Der Zerfall und die Außerbetriebnahme des Ness of Brodgars könnte mit der weiteren Entwicklung der Sakrallandschaft in der Umgebung zeitlich übereinstimmen, aber es fehlen noch exakte chronologische Angaben für die anderen Fundstätten in der umgebenden Landschaft. Die beeindruckenden Überreste von Feiern, welche die Struktur 10 überdeckten, könnten zu einer radikal veränderten Welt gehören, die (in unserem zweiten Modell) man mit dem Auftreten der Glockenbecher auf den Britischen Inseln in Zusammenhang bringen könnte. Wahrscheinlich war es aber der inzwischen mythisch gewordene Status der Struktur 10, der die Menschen wieder heranlockte. Translation by Madeleine Hummler

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Copyright © European Association of Archaeologists 2017 

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