The ancient inhabitants of Scotland were building artificial islands thousands of years earlier than we thought, ancient pottery discovered in Scottish lochs suggests.
Hundreds of these small, human-made islands, or crannogs, have been found across Scotland. They are particularly common in the islands of the Outer Hebrides off the northwest coast of the mainland. Archaeologists had believed the oldest dated back to around 800 BC, in the Iron Age. They then remained in use for around 2500 years afterwards.
But the discovery of one major crannog on the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist dating back to the Neolithic period, about 3700 BC, prompted speculation that several of the islands might date to this era. The idea has now been confirmed. In 2012, former Navy diver Chris Murray discovered a series of well-preserved pots of a Neolithic style around another crannog on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis.
Working in collaboration with Murray, Duncan Garrow at the University of Reading and his colleague analysed several more crannogs in the Outer Hebrides.
Radiocarbon dating of structural timbers and pot residues put the age of four sites at between 3640 to 3360 BC – quite close together.
While it is unclear what these sites were used for, scholars have suggested they might have been special places for social gatherings, ritualised feasting or funeral sites.
The builders used stone and wood to construct the islets, sometimes expanding on existing formations in the water. One of the sites in Garrow’s study measured 26 x 22 metres and was made using stones weighing up to 250 kilograms each.
Hundreds of Neolithic pots have been discovered around the sites since 2012, some remarkably well preserved, Garrow wrote.
A few pots remained on the islets themselves, but the majority were found in the water surrounding them. The position of these ceramics and the quantity suggested that they were intentionally placed in the water, and some, if not all, were whole at the time, Garrow wrote.
Because the loch sediment is so stable and placid, it’s likely the ceramics that fell or were placed in the water remained in much the same spot until they were discovered some 5000 years later, Garrow wrote.
Journal reference: Antiquity, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2019.41
More on these topics: