iron age

5.12 Research Recommendations

  1. What factors lie behind variation in house size and construction? Can clearer patterns in space and time be discerned?
  2. The nature of so-called 'floor deposits' is a key issue requiring further research, and the settlements of the Atlantic zone offer an ideal opportunity for this.
  3. Integrated study of building use needs to be more of a priority, drawing on a range of evidence; this needs to include integration of field evidence of use, repair, etc; comparison of artefact assemblages and their distribution; the ecofactual record; and an understanding of the taphonomic processed governing this evidence. Such integrated work is rarely carried out
  4. Questions of detailed chronology of buildings can and should be tested where circumstances allow a fine-grained chronology to be constructed
  5. Issues concerning raw materials and resource availability (particularly timber and stone) require further exploration, in both chronological and cultural terms, including comparisons between Atlantic and non-Atlantic traditions, but also more nuanced regional comparisons.
  6. Burnt-down houses represent a particularly valuable resource which needs to be seized with careful work in the field and in the lab.
  7. How do lowland brochs fit into their settlement landscapes, especially in relation to other stone architecture?
  8. The development of the complex architecture of Atlantic Scotland remains an active area of debate; new approaches to existing data provide new perspectives, but the impact of the dating evidence of Scatness stresses the prime need for more, reliably dated sequences
  9. There is a need to do more work on political, social and symbolic aspects of the construction of Atlantic roundhouses and their relations with the landscape, other Atlantic roundhouses, and other settlement forms
  10. Many aspects of Atlantic material culture merit fresh synthesis (see also theme 4.4) - little apart from pottery has seen detailed study, and pottery itself still has much to yield
  11. What forces led to the move away from roundhouse architecture in different parts of the country? The contexts, chronology and significance of the introduction of rectilinear forms of architecture in various parts of Scotland during the first millennium AD require a major input of future research and synthesis
  12. There is a need for academic publication of current and future reconstruction and replica projects, identifying the aims, methods, limitations, experiences and outcomes.

5.10 Non-circular architecture

The Iron Age is not simply a time of roundhouses in various forms. Rectangular structures of four or more posts are often found on cropmark sites, and interpreted as granaries on no strong evidence; one could equally construct a roundhouse from a four-post structure. The nature of these structures remains a major concern e.g. Dunwell 2007, 61-62).

There is a variation in circularity, with a number of structures notably oval, while some structures in the Atlantic zone have been seen as D-shaped 'semi-brochs', a concept supported strongly by MacKie (e.g. 1991; 2008, 267, 274-5), but rejected by others, who seek to explain these as eroded and collapsed roundhouses (Harding 1984).

The Atlantic Late Iron Age appears to show increasingly diverse range of structural forms. These are predominantly cellular forms, but there are also a small but significant proportion of rectilinear structures like the wags (stalled buildings) and similar structures (Baines 1999, Cowley 1999), some Argyll duns , and buildings external to earlier brochs, e.g. at Dun Vulan (Parker Pearson et al. 1999; Gilmour 2002, 2005). Questions over the function of many of these buildings are yet to be satisfactorily resolved. There is also some continuing use of circular forms (e.g. late wheelhouses at Scatness, Dockrill et al. 2010 and forthcoming). But how significant is the difference? Should wags be seen as aisled roundhouses transformed into rectangular form (Harding 2009 , 276)?

Beyond the Atlantic zone, the evidence of buildings in the first millennium AD is minimal after c. AD 200, and has even been suggested to represent 'tableaux of desertion' (Hill 1982b, 10). There is some evidence of rectilinear forms emerging (Pitcarmick type houses, Anglian halls). Cellular forms also occur (e.g. Ardestie; Harding 2004, 240-2), and the continuation of round and oval forms is in evidence (e.g.Buiston, Crone 2000; Easter Kinnear, Driscoll 1997 and the circular 'homesteads' of Perthshire (Taylor 1990, although their dating may be earlier than he argued, cf Hingley et al. 1997). This reduction in evidence may also reflect a change to non-earthfast building techniques. Whatever the cause of this apparently sharp diminution of structural settlement evidence, it means that obtaining a coherent idea of the range of settlement forms and the social structure that lay behind them, is going to be profoundly challenging.

Recent work in East Lothian has suggested that here the development of non-roundhouse buildings was underway in the 2nd-1st century BC at the site of Phantassie (Lelong 2008b). This site also serves as a useful reminder of survey bias, as it was unrecorded prior to invasive fieldwork, and the cellular structures had no earthfast foundations. At Phantassie they survived because they used stone - but similar buildings of turf would leave no trace, and such 'invisible' architecture poses a serious challenge (Loveday 2006). For those who want a more hierarchical Iron Age, the landless peasantry may have lived in exactly such hypothetical turf or timber houses which would be a struggle to recognise today.

What forces led to the move away from roundhouse architecture in different parts of the country? The contexts, chronology and significance of the introduction of rectilinear forms of architecture in various parts of Scotland during the first millennium AD require a major input of future research and synthesis.

What roles were played by buildings such as wags, souterrains, four-posters, and the irregular-shaped buildings found outside some brochs?