‘It rained a lot and nothing much happened’ : Settlement and society in Bronze Age Orkney
Mamwell, Caroline Jane
This thesis addresses the question of an impoverished record for the Orcadian Bronze Age. It presents the first comprehensive synthesis of this period, which is overshadowed by its neighbours. Factors that influenced the formation of the archaeological record in Orkney are investigated. The effects of agricultural improvement on archaeological survival, not previously examined in detail in an Orcadian context, are shown to have been particularly significant. It is found that destruction of sites of all periods took place on a large scale, especially in the 19th century, and that this went largely unrecorded, which has not hitherto been fully appreciated or understood. Critical evaluation of the chronology and scale of land improvement is shown to be of particular importance in understanding archaeological distributions of Bronze Age evidence. Areas of archaeological survival of Bronze Age relict landscapes in largely marginal areas are identified and the implications of site densities in these landscapes are examined. The apparently high density of Bronze Age occupation in these marginal areas may be a result of population pressure or social control. Burial-related evidence is examined in light of the changing burial practices in the late 3rd millennium BC and thereafter. The exotic artefactual assemblage, especially metalwork, in both funerary and non-funerary contexts, is examined to discover possible explanations for its nature. Typologies of Bronze Age settlements are proposed and their developmental trajectories and relationships are investigated. It is found likely that some at least of Orkney’s numerous broch sites could be the culmination of a multi-period settlement with roots in the second or third millennia BC. It is proposed that excavation of such sites may identify remains of the ‘missing’ high-status sites of the Orcadian Bronze Age. The chronology, function and distribution of burnt mounds, and their relationship with settlements and funerary sites is examined. It is found that there is an association between burnt mounds and settlements, and burnt mounds and funerary sites, in Orkney’s relict landscapes, and that this relationship may be applicable to the wider Orkney landscape. A dearth of excavated and published sites, lack of diagnostic artefact assemblages and concomitant lack of chronological resolution are found to present difficulties in treating ‘the Bronze Age’ as anything other than a unitary period in Orkney. Understanding of Bronze Age Orkney suffers from limited excavation. There are no obvious high-status settlements and an absence of artefact types found contemporarily elsewhere in the British Isles. The current paradigm of the fragmentation of society at the end of the Neolithic inferred from this is examined and the evidence found to be equivocal. Alternative explanations for the apparent discontinuity exhibited at some sites towards the end of the 3rd millennium cal BC are explored. Recommendations for future research are made.