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

  • Stuart Rathbone (a1)
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

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