5.1.2 Middle Neolithic developments

Some idea of the regionally-diverse ceramic developments has already been presented in Theme 3. Essentially, in eastern, south-east and south-west Scotland we are dealing with the evolution of the Carinated Bowl tradition, with Impressed Ware beginning to be used possibly as early as c 3600 BC and becoming the dominant tradition thereafter, until the adoption of Grooved Ware from Orkney around 3000 BC. Regional and chronological variation in the Impressed Ware tradition can be traced, with clear links between the variant seen in south-west Scotland and its congeners in north-east Ireland (Sheridan 1995), and with a southern Scottish-northern English style clearly evident. Vessels featuring very narrow flat bases are one characteristic of this style, and some pots that have clear affinities with English 'Fengate Ware' have been found at several sites (e.g. Deer's Den, Culduthel, Highland and Overhailes, East Lothian).

In Orkney, details of the development of plain and decorated non-Grooved Ware pottery still need to be clarified. It appears that there may well have been some chronological overlap with the use of Grooved Ware but the duration of this is unclear, partly because of the radiocarbon calibration plateau between 3400-3100 cal BC.

In Shetland, it appears that an insular style featuring fine and coarse, undecorated, mostly hemispherical vessels emerged during the second half of the fourth millennium (Sheridan 2012).


5.1.3 Late Neolithic developments: Grooved Ware

The key development is the emergence of Grooved Ware - a phenomenon that occurred in Orkney, with the Pool ceramic sequence offering the key to its origins (MacSween 1992, 1999, 2007). As indicated above, the precise date of its emergence remains a little obscure, but Schulting et al. (2010) have concluded that it was very probably in use by 3200 BC. Its emergence seems to be related to the social dynamics of Late Neolithic communities in Orkney, where a system of competitive conspicuous consumption operated. The key features of Orcadian Grooved Ware have been defined by MacSween and Cowie (1999) and Sheridan (1999), and the very close similarities between some Grooved Ware from Orkney and far-flung Grooved Ware from southern England have long been recognised - indeed, in the original use of the term 'Rinyo-Clacton' ware.

That Grooved Ware in different parts of Britain and Ireland followed different (and sometimes convergent) trajectories is clear, but many more high-quality dates are required in order to define the nature of these trajectories in detail.

NEW! 2019 

The Tracing the Lines Project has produced  a catalogue of Grooved Ware in Scotland - find more about the project in the case study here.

Download the catalogue at