Beyond the Brochs: Changing Perspectives on the Later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland

Beyond the Brochs: Changing Perspectives on the Later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland

Beyond the Brochs: Changing Perspectives on the Later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland

Beyond the Brochs: Changing Perspectives on the Later Iron Age in Atlantic Scotland

Excerpt

A single site, that of Howe, Stromness, Orkney, is used here as an example to illustrate the complexities of settlement and building forms found during the Later Iron Age. The productivity of this one site in artefacts as well as structures has pointed the way to a new understanding of the potential of other Iron Age sites (Hedges, this volume). It has also helped our reinterpretation of previously excavated sites now known to be Late Iron Age or at least to have supported settlement of that date. Howe has been a major breakthrough for the development of Iron Age studies in Scotland. The continuity of settlement has enabled the sequence of building forms, and especially those of the Later Iron Age, to be studied in detail.

The prehistoric mound at Howe Farm was excavated for several lengthy seasons in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a prominent mound in an otherwise gently sloping landscape with open views to all directions but the north. The mound stood in the way of agricultural improvement, and time and money were granted by the Scottish Development Department (Historic Buildings and Monuments) for investigation of the Iron Age potential of the site. Small-scale Victorian diggings had brought to light some pottery of Iron Age appearance and a glass linen smoother from the Viking period. A broch site was suspected.

When excavated, the sequence of buildings at Howe proved to be one of the most complete and complex series of pre-Iron Age and Iron Age structures recorded for more than fifty years in the north of Scotland. The site yielded the remains of two Neolithic chambered tombs and two very early phases of Iron Age activity, as well as a roundhouse and first broch with their associated settlements. The evidence for a second broch settlement and Later Iron Age buildings was copious and the survival of the archaeological record of both structures and artefacts was good. The second broch settlement ended with a fire in c.AD 35 and from that point onward all the subsequent activity on the site is referred to as Later Iron Age. In total there were sixteen stages of new building and alteration covering two main phases (Phases 7 and . . .

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