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A Consideration of Villages in Neolithic and Bronze Age Britain and Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2013

Stuart Rathbone*
Affiliation:
30, Foxon Barn Rd, Rugby, England, UK Email rathbone_stuart@hotmail.com

Abstract

Neolithic and Bronze Age settlements in Britain and Ireland have, on occasion, been referred to as being prehistoric villages but there is little agreement as to what a settlement from these periods should consist of for it to be confidently identified as such. A particular problem is that the development of villages in Britain and Ireland is commonly seen as being a medieval phenomenon and most discussions regarding the essential characteristics of villages are centred on medieval evidence. This paper examines which features of a prehistoric settlement can be used to determine if the use of the term ‘village’ is appropriate, ultimately finding the number of contemporary households to be the primary concern. Sites which have been identified specifically as being Neolithic or Bronze Age villages are critically reviewed, as are a selection of sites where the designation may be appropriate but where the term has so far been avoided. The number of sites from both periods that could justify being identified as being villages is found to be low, and in all cases it seems that moves toward larger nucleated settlements are geographically and chronologically restricted and are followed by a return to dispersed settlement patterns. This curious pattern of the rapid creation and decline of villages at a regional level is contrasted with different explanations for the development of nucleated settlements from other areas and during other time periods, which revolve around economic and agricultural intensification, the development of more hierarchical societies and the increase in structured trading networks. They do not fit well with either our current perceptions of Neolithic and Bronze Age societies, or with the strictly localised moves towards nucleation that were observed. New explanations with a more local focus are found to be required

Résumé

Considération des villages du néolithique et de l’âge du bronze en Grande-Bretagne et en Irlande, de Stuart Rathbone

Nous avons, à l'occasion, fait référence aux occupations du néolithique et de l’âge du bronze en Grande-Bretagne et en Irlande comme étant des villages préhistoriques mais il n'existe que peu de consensus quant à ce en quoi devrait consister une occupation de cette époque pour qu'elle soit identifée comme telle avec assurance. Un problème particulier est que le développement des villages en Grande-Bretagne et en Irlande est souvent considéré comme étant un phénomène médiéval et la plupart des discussions des caractéristiques essentielles des villages se concentrent sur les témoignages médiévaux. Cet article examine quels aspects d'une occupation préhistorique nous pouvons utiliser pour déterminer si l'usage du mot ‘village’ est approprié, concluant finalement que le nombre de familles contemporaines doit être la première préoccupation. Nous examinons d'un oeil critique les sites qui ont été spécifiquement identifiés comme étant des villages néolithiques ou de l’âge du bronze, ainsi qu'une sélection de sites où la désignation serait peut-être appropriée mais où l'on a jusqu’à présent évité d'utiliser le terme. Le nombre de sites des deux périodes pour lesquels l'appellation de village pourrait se justifier s'est avéré petit, et dans tous les cas il semble que les mouvements vers des occupations plus grandes et nuclées sont restreints géographiquement et chronologiquement et sont suivis par un retour à des modèles d'habitat dispersé. Nous contrastons cet étrange phénomène de création et de déclin rapides des villages au niveau régional avec les diverses explications du développement d'occupations nuclées dans d'autres régions et à d'autres périodes de temps qui tournent autour d'une intensification de l’économie et de l'agriculture, de l'essor de sociétés plus hiérarchisées et de la croissance de réseaux commerciaux structurés. Elles ne s'intègrent pas bien ni avec notre perception actuelle des sociétés du néolithique et de l’âge du bronze, ni avec l’évolution vers la nucléation strictement localisée que nous avons observée. Nous avons trouvé que nous avions besoin de nouvelles explications avec un point central plus local

Zussamenfassung

Eine Betrachtung von Dörfern im neolithischen und bronzezeitlichen Großbritannien und Irland, von Stuart Rathbone

Neolithische und bronzezeitliche Siedlungen in Großbritannien und Irland wurden gelegentlich als prähistorische Dörfer bezeichnet, jedoch gibt es keinen Konsens darüber, welche Merkmale eine Siedlung dieser Perioden aufweisen sollte um sicher als Dorf identifiziert werden zu können. Ein besonderes Problem ist, dass die Entstehung von Dörfern in Großbritannien und Irland üblicherweise als ein mittelalterliches Phänomen betrachtet wird, weshalb sich die meisten Auseinandersetzungen in Bezug auf die grundlegenden Charakteristiken auf Beobachtungen zum Mittelalter beziehen. Dieser Beitrag untersucht, welche Merkmale einer prähistorischen Siedlung herangezogen werden können um festzustellen, ob der Gebrauch des Begriffs ,,Dorf“ angemessen ist; dabei zeigt sich, dass die Anzahl gleichzeitig bestehender Haushalte die wichtigste Frage ist. Fundplätze, die ausdrücklich als neolithische oder bronzezeitliche Dörfer angesprochen werden, werden ebenso einer kritischen Prüfung unterzogen wie eine Auswahl an Fundplätzen, bei denen die Ansprache zutreffend sein mag, für die der Begriff aber bisher vermieden wurde. Die Zahl an Fundplätzen aus beiden Epochen, die eine Ansprache als Dorf rechtfertigen würden, ist tatsächlich klein, und in allen Fällen scheint es, dass Entwicklungen hin zu größeren und geschlosseneren Siedlungen geographisch und chronologisch beschränkt sind, und dass anschließend zu lockeren Siedlungsstrukturen zurückgekehrt wird. Dieses bemerkenswerte Muster einer schnellen Bildung und eines schnellen Niedergangs von Dörfern auf regionaler Ebene wird verglichen mit verschiedenen Interpretationen für die Entwicklung geschlossenerer Siedlungen in anderen Regionen und anderen Epochen, die sich auf Aspekte beziehen wie die ökonomische und landwirtschaftliche Intensivierung, die Entstehung stärker hierarchisch gegliederter Gesellschaften und die Zunahme strukturierter Handelsnetzwerke. Diese Interpretationsansätze passen weder zu unseren gegenwärtigen Vorstellungen der neolithischen und bronzezeitlichen Gesellschaften noch zu den festgestellten, deutlich lokal begrenzten Ausbildungen geschlossener Siedlungen. Neue Erklärungen mit einem stärker lokalen Fokus sind also notwendig

Resumen

Una reflexión sobre los poblados durante el Neolítico y la Edad del Bronce en Inglaterra e Irlanda, por Stuart Rathbone

Los asentamientos neolíticos y de la Edad del Bronce en Inglaterra e Irlanda han sido considerados, en ocasiones, como aldeas prehistóricas, pero no existe unanimidad sobre qué rasgos debe poseer un asentamiento de estos períodos para ser identificado con seguridad como tal. Un problema particular es que el desarrollo de las aldeas en Inglaterra e Irlanda se considera un fenómeno medieval y, por ello, la mayor parte de las discusiones relacionadas con las características fundamentales de los poblados se centran en los casos medievales.

Este artículo examina qué rasgos de los asentamientos prehistóricos se pueden utilizar para determinar si el uso del término “aldea” es apropiado, considerando como criterio principal el número de casas coetáneas. Se revisan de manera crítica los yacimientos identificados específicamente como poblados neolíticos o de la Edad del Bronce, así como los yacimientos en los que esta designación puede ser apropiada pero en los que se ha evitado el uso de tal término. El número de yacimientos de ambos períodos en los que estaría justificada su consideración como aldeas es bajo, y en todos los casos, parece que se trata de asentamientos nucleares de mayor tamaño que están geográfica y cronológicamente restringidos, seguido de un retorno a los patrones de asentamiento dispersos. Este curioso patrón de rápida creación y declive de los poblados a nivel regional se contrasta con las diferentes explicaciones que se han dado para el desarrollo de los asentamientos nucleares en otras áreas y en otros períodos de tiempo, que giran en torno a la intensificación económica y agrícola, al desarrollo de las sociedades jerárquicas y al incremento de las redes de intercambio estructuradas. Esto no encaja con nuestras percepciones actuales de las sociedades neolíticas y de la Edad del Bronce, ni con los contados casos en los que los procesos de nucleización se han observado. Esto requiere de nuevas explicaciones con un enfoque más local

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Copyright © The Prehistoric Society 2013 

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