The Development of Neolithic House Societies in Orkney: Investigations in the Bay of Firth, Mainland, Orkney (1994–2014) [Hardback]

Colin Richards(Editor); Richard Jones(Editor)

ISBN: 9781909686892 | Published by: Windgather Press | Year of Publication: 2016 | Language: English 512p, H11 x W8.5, full color
Status: This book is out of print.

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The Development of Neolithic House Societies in Orkney


Considering that Orkney is a group of relatively small islands lying off the northeast coast of the Scottish mainland, its wealth of Neolithic archaeology is truly extraordinary. An assortment of houses, chambered cairns, stone circles, standing stones and passage graves provides an unusually comprehensive range of archaeological and architectural contexts. Yet, in the early 1990s, there was a noticeable imbalance between 4th and 3rd millennium cal BC evidence, with house structures, and ‘villages’ being well represented in the latter but minimally in the former. As elsewhere in the British Isles, the archaeological visibility of the 4th millennium cal BC in Orkney tends to be dominated by the monumental presence of chambered cairns or tombs.
In the 1970s Claude Lévi-Strauss conceived of a form of social organization based upon the ‘house’ – sociétés à maisons – in order to provide a classification for social groups that appeared not to conform to established anthropological kinship structures. In this approach, the anchor point is the ‘house’, understood as a conceptual resource that is a consequence of a strategy of constructing and legitimizing identities under ever shifting social conditions.

Drawing on the results of an extensive program of fieldwork in the Bay of Firth, Mainland Orkney, the text explores the idea that the physical appearance of the house is a potent resource for materializing the dichotomous alliance and descent principles apparent in the archaeological evidence for the early and later Neolithic of Orkney. It argues that some of the insights made by Lévi-Strauss in his basic formulation of sociétés à maisons are extremely relevant to interpreting the archaeological evidence and providing the parameters for a ‘social’ narrative of the material changes occurring in Orkney between the 4th and 2nd millennia cal BC.
The major excavations undertaken during the Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project provided an unprecedented depth and variety of evidence for Neolithic occupation, bridging the gap between domestic and ceremonial architecture and form, exploring the transition from wood to stone and relationships between the living and the dead and the role of material culture. The results are described and discussed in detail here, enabling tracing of the development and fragmentation of sociétés à maisons over a 1500 year period of Northern Isles prehistory.

Table of Contents

1. Images of Neolithic Orkney, by Colin Richards and Richard Jones
2. Houses of the dead: the transition from wood to stone architecture at Wideford Hill, by Colin Richards & Andrew Meirion Jones
3. Place in the Past: an early Neolithic house at the Knowes of Trotty barrow cemetery, Harray, Mainland, Orkney, by Jane Downes, Paul Sharman, Adrian Challands, Patricia D. Voke, Erika Guttmann-Bond, Jo McKenzie and Roy Towers
4. Local histories of passage grave building communities: Brae of Smerquoy, by Christopher Gee, Colin Richards and Mairi Robertson
5. Good neighbours: Stonehall Knoll, Stonehall Meadow and Stonehall Farm, by Colin Richards, Kenny Brophy, Martin Carruthers, Andrew Meirion. Jones, Richard Jones and Siân Jones
6. At Stonehall Farm, late Neolithic life is rubbish, by Colin Richards, Richard Jones, Adrian Challands, Andrew Meirion. Jones, Siân Jones and Tom Muir
7. The settlement of Crossiecrown: the Grey and Red Houses, by Nick Card, Jane Downes, Richard Jones, Colin Richards and Antonia Thomas
8. Reorientating the dead of Crossiecrown: Quanterness and Ramberry Head, by Rebecca Crozier, Colin Richards, Judith Robertson and Adrian Challands
9. Materializing Neolithic house societies in Orkney, introducing Varme Dale and Muckquoy, by Colin Richards, Jane Downes, Christopher Gee and Stephen Carter
10. Beside the ocean of time: a chronology of Neolithic burial monuments and houses in Orkney, by Seren Griffiths
11. Prehistoric pottery from the Bay of Firth: Wideford Hill, Stonehall, Brae of Smerquoy, Knowes of Trotty, Redland and Crossiecrown, by Andrew Meirion Jones, Richard Jones Gemma Tully, Lara Maritan, Anna Mukerjee, Richard Evershed, Ann MacSween, Colin Richards and Roy Towers
12. Flaked lithic artefacts from Neolithic sites around the Bay of Firth: Wideford Hill, Knowes of Trotty, Brae of Smerquoy, Stonehall, Crossiecrown and Ramberry, by Hugo Anderson-Whymark, Richard Chatterton, Mark Edmonds and Caroline Wickham-Jones
13. The coarse stone from Neolithic sites around the Bay of Firth: Stonehall, Wideford Hill, Crossiecrown, Knowes of Trotty and Brae of Smerquoy, by Ann Clarke
The pumice from Crossiecrown and Stonehall, by Ann Clarke
The black stone bead from Structure 1 at Stonehall Farm, by Alison Sheridan
The haematite and iron-rich materials, by Effie Photos-Jones, Arlene Isbisterand Richard Jones
14. The animal remains from Stonehall and Crossiecrown, by Catherine Smith and Julie A. Roberts
The human remains from Ramberry Head, by David Lawrence
15. Bay of Firth environments during the 3rd and 4th millennium BC: the botanical evidence from Stonehall, Wideford Hill, Crossiecrown and Knowes of Trotty, by Jennifer Miller, Susan Ramsay, Diane Alldrit and Joana Bending
Palaeoenvironmental Investigation of a Peat Core from Stonehall, Susan Ramsay, Stephanie Leigh-Johnson and Rupert Housley
16. The micromorphological analysis of soils and site contexts at Stonehall and Crossiecrown, by Charles French

Reviews & Quotes

"“The Development of Neolithic house societies in Orkney is a superb publication and an essential reference volume for all those interested in prehistoric daily life.”"
Jessica Smyth

"“Overall this report represents a genuinely outstanding contribution to our knowledge of Neolithic Orkney. Richly illustrated and written in an engaging fashion it marks a significant moment in our understanding of these complex landscapes.” "


"“That this volume has, by and large, been written to be read, as opposed to just being a work of reference, is made clear in the frequent references to the human story behind the huge amount of work that took place. The editors deserve congratulations for bringing together this considerable data set into a coherent volume.” "
Clive Waddington

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