Farmers, Temples and Tombs: Scotland in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

Farmers, Temples and Tombs: Scotland in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

Farmers, Temples and Tombs: Scotland in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age

Farmers, Temples and Tombs: Scotland in the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age


For too long the story of this exciting period has been told using the same stone-built suites, mainly in the North and on Orkney. It tells the story using evidence from all over Scotland, from simple settlements as well as the great monuments, tombs and mysterious standing stones that are still such a notable feature of today's landscape. Designed throughout with colourful and detailed illustrations, Farmers, Temples and Tombs outlines in a clear and understandable way the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age in Scotland. It contains in-depth features on important Neolithic sites and emphasizes that what are now archaeological sites were once places where normal people lived. Included in the book are specially commissioned illustrations which show how different sites might have looked, as well as a list of Neolithic sites that can be visited across Scotland. This book is part of a newly updated edition of the acclaimed Making of Scotland series produced by Historic Scotland and Birlinn which provides lively, accessible and up-to-date introductions to key themes and periods in Scottish history and prehistory.


There are many reasons to believe that there were significant changes in society over most of Britain starting around 3300 bc in Scotland. There was already evidence of increasing diversity from place to place in burial and religious practice, and as the changes progressed, even greater regional diversity can be detected although there is also evidence of widespread common traditions. the construction of the cursus monuments (which may begin later in the Neolithic, although this is not clear), indicates a change away from the society that built the communal burial mounds, the construction of which ended in most parts of Scotland around 2500 bc.

In most areas late Neolithic burials (where limited evidence survives) are more likely to be of individuals rather than of a mass of anonymous bone form several people; it may be that it was now possible for the status of prominent individuals to be reflected in the way they were buried; for example, occupying a tomb designed solely for them. At much the same time a completely new type of ceremonial site – the henge – was built.


We do not know what went on in enclosures of the kind known as henges. At one time they were generally accepted as being places within which religious ceremonies took place, but in recent years the situation has begun to seem more complex. a henge is an enclosure comprising a ditch and a bank; in a defensive or settlement site the bank would normally lie on the inner edge of the ditch but in henges the relationship is reversed – the bank lies outside the ditch. There are usually one or two entrances. in Scotland the two largest are the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney and Westfield in Angus (both around 100 metres across) and one of the smallest is Wormy Hillock in Aberdeenshire, at only 6 metres across.

One feature that has become clear as more henge sites are excavated is that the actual enclosure is always part of a long sequence of events – the first trace of human activity on a site that would later have a henge built on it is often the digging of pits and the deposition in them of broken and burnt pottery or other artefacts a thousand or more years before the henge enclosure. Very often there are later burials – often over many centuries, and even into the Early Christian period.

Another regularly-occurring feature within these enclosures is a ring of posts (the sockets visible on aerial photographs or revealed by excavation) or standing stones. a simple relationship has often been assumed – the enclosure and the rings being seen as part of a single . . .

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