2.4 Late Neolithic Scotland, c 3000-c 2500BC

Understanding of developments within this half millennium is dominated by the spread - southwards from Orkney - of Grooved Ware use and associated practices, not just to other parts of Scotland but to Ireland and the rest of Britain. it is only now that research is getting to grips with all that was involved in this phenomenon, and the picture is currently evolving thanks to the results of excavations at the Ness of Brodgar ceremonial complex (and indeed at Durrington Walls in Wessex, in the recent past), but the following scenario seems plausible:

The aforementioned process of competitive conspicuous consumption and hierarchisation that occurred in late 4th millennium Orkney continued into the 3rd millennium and had led, 3000/2900 BC, to the emergence of a specifically Orcadian version of a theocratic power system. This featured the use of Maes Howe-type passage tombs (Fig. 13) for housing the dead - and it is tempting to regard these people as members of dominant lineages - and for carrying out annual ceremonies at midwinter solstice, when the setting sun entered the passage and chamber. Perhaps there was a belief that this brought the ancestral remains back to life, thereby ensuring the well-being of the living for the next year.

[Fig 13 to go here]

The people who built and used these tombs also used Grooved Ware pottery (Fig. a), and during the 30th century they built the henge at the Stones of Stenness (Fig. b) - with its stone circle surrounded by a single-entrance ditch and bank. (See Schulting 2010, 35-6 for a Bayesian model of the dates.) This would have been an open-air monument for the performance of ceremonies, forming part of a complex of special sites in this part of the Orkney mainland. The 'special' settlement at Barnhouse, also in this area, was superseded (or complemented), after 3100 BC, by the construction of the major enclosed ceremonial centre at Ness of Brodgar (Figure a), with its massive buildings and two boundary walls. This reinforced the sacred status of the isthmus between what would have been marshy areas (now the Lochs of Stenness and Harray). Stone maceheads and other carved stone objects of various shapes (including balls) were used as symbols of power and as objects to be sacrificed ritually, by deliberate breakage, during ceremonies. Ceremonies also involved feasting.

Figure a: Large buildings at Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. Illustration: Nick Card

It seems likely that this ceremonial centre in the heart of Orkney gained fame far beyond the archipelago, in the same way that the Boyne valley had previously been a ceremonial centre, attracting visitors from far and wide. Visitors to Orkney, and spread of its fame by word of mouth across the pre-existing networks of contacts, would account for the rapid southwards spread of elements of its traditions - namely the use of Grooved Ware (which reached southern England and south-west Ireland), of various kinds of macehead, of carved stone balls (Fig. x) (which were manufactured in large numbers in Aberdeenshire), of stone circles (and counterparts in timber, not currently/yet attested in Orkney) and, arguably, of single- and multiple-entrance, roughly circular henge monuments, including the 'anomalous' first-phase henge at Stonehenge. The adoption of these elements was selective, varying from region to region: for example, communities along the Atlantic façade of Scotland adopted the use of stone (and timber) circles and the use of Grooved Ware, although at Calanais stone circle on Lewis the latter is represented by just a single pot (Ashmore forthcoming; see also Sheridan 2004b on the nature and dynamics of this spread to Ireland.) Elsewhere, in Shetland, the only element that seems to have been adopted - apart from a single, and questionable, example of a Grooved Ware pot - was the cushion macehead. This type of macehead seems to have been made in Shetland (as well as elsewhere); it is likely that several of the examples of this macehead type found in England had been made in Scotland. (See Theme 5)

[Figs b and c to go here when received]

Other evidence for the long-distance (and reciprocal) movement of ideas and objects (and people) includes the shared use of specific motifs - including the 'eyebrow' motif, as seen on a figurine from the Links of Noltland (see Theme 5), on a chamber tomb at Holm of Papa Westray South and on the Folkton 'Drums' in Yorkshire - and the northwards movement of fine oblique and petit tranchet derivative arrowheads of black flint (as seen in the passage tomb at Ormiegill , Caithness, for example: Figure d).

Figure d: Late Neolithic oblique and petit tranchet derivative arrowheads of black flint, along with other (probably earlier) flint artefacts, from Ormiegill passage tomb, Caithness. From Clarke et al. 1985; photo NMS.

That long-distance contacts between Orkney and the south of England persisted until at least the 26th century is suggested by a parallelism in the shape of houses at Durrington Walls and at Skara Brae (Parker Pearson 2007), and by continued sharing of some Grooved Ware styles despite the divergent regional trajectories in different parts of Britain and Ireland. Furthermore, it is well within the bounds of possibility that the Ring of Brodgar - which is by far the largest henge in northern Britain - was created for a member of the Orcadian elite who had visited Avebury and who wanted to recreate it as part of the Stenness-Brodgar ceremonial area. The dating evidence for both sites leaves much to be desired, but a date during or after the 26th century BC is consistent both with what can be said about the construction date of Avebury (Josh Pollard pers. comm.) and with the admittedly imprecise results of OSL dating at the Ring of Brodgar.

The phenomenon sketched above presents the most striking and obvious development during the first half of the third millennium, but it was not the only one. It now seems likely that most 'rock art', featuring cupmarks, cup-and-ring and other designs (Figure e), was created during the first half of the third millennium BC (even though the earliest simple cupmarks probably date to the early fourth millennium, as suggested by a cup-marked slab from Dalladies funerary monument).

Figure e: Bedrock adorned with 'rock art', Ormaig, Argyll and Bute. From Clarke et al. 1985; © Mike Brooks.

The nature of 'rock art' and its complicated relationship to 'passage tomb art' and Grooved Ware design is explored in Theme 6; and note that the creation of rock art on outcrops should not be confused with the much later re-use of some of these outcrops to create cist slabs during the Early Bronze Age, and stone settings during the Middle Bronze Age. Suffice it to say here that the overall distribution of 'complex rock art', featuring cup-and-ring and other designs other than simple cupmarks, extends beyond Scotland to other parts of Britain, Ireland and north-west Iberia. As Richard Bradley argued in 1997, the close similarities in designs and placement in the landscape in these different regions implies the existence of extensive Atlantic façade networks of contact (Bradley 1997). This accords with the evidence from the late fourth millennium major passage tombs of the Boyne Valley, where long-distance elite journeying as far as the Morbihan area of Brittany and south-west Iberia is attested (Eogan 1980; Stout and Stout 2008).


Figure f: The Orkney Vole: a Continental arrival around or just before 3000 BC. Photo: © Dr Peter Reynolds

It also accords with the genetic evidence for the arrival of the Orkney Vole in Orkney (Cucchi et al. forthcoming), which must have involved long-distance transport by sea from the Continent. Since Orkney Vole remains are present in Orkney by 3000 BC, their arrival may relate to long-distance journeying at that time. Therefore, while the Grooved Ware-associated traditions and practices involved interaction within Britain and Ireland, the evidence from rock art suggests the existence ofmore extensive networks of contact during the first half of the third millennium.


(left) Figure g: Late Neolithic enclosures in Scotland: a. Leadketty, b. Forteviot, c. Dunragit, d. Meldon Bridge, e. Kinloch (from Millican 2009), f. Blackshouse Burn. From Noble and Brophy 2011b; drawn by Kirsty Millican
(right) Figure h: Location map for enclosures shown in Figure g (plus others discussed in Noble and Brophy 2011b).

Other developments during this period include the emergence of large palisaded (and in the case of Blackshouse Burn, stone and earthen) enclosures in parts of southern and central Scotland (Figure 18) The example at Dunragit, Dumfries and Galloway, may well be contemporary (and associated) with the use of Grooved Ware at the site; it, and the recently-excavated example at Forteviot, Perth and Kinross (Noble and Brophy 2011a and b), has produced radiocarbon dates indicating construction between the 29th and 25th century BC. The poorly-dated enclosure at Meldon Bridge, Scottish Borders, is closely comparable with the Dunragit and Forteviot examples and at least one further Scottish example is known from aerial photographs (at Leadketty, not far from Forteviot, in Perth and Kinross: ibid.) Parallels can be drawn with the contemporary complex timber enclosure at Ballynahatty, Co. Down (Hartwell 2002). Timber structures featuring a central setting of four large posts - as seen at numerous sites in Ireland, and also in Wessex - have been found at Greenbogs, Aberdeenshire (Noble in press). Whether the Greenbogs examples had been special-purpose buildings for ceremonies (like the examples elsewhere), or houses, is unclear.

Many research questions remain to be addressed, principally:

  1. What was happening in those parts of Scotland that did not participate in the 'Grooved Ware phenomenon' as sketched above? And within Orkney, what were the social dynamics there between those who participated in the social system as sketched above, and those who did not?
  2. Have all the practices, traditions, types of structure and material culture associated with the 'Grooved Ware phenomenon' been identified? (Our knowledge of Grooved Ware habitation structures outside Orkney is very poor, for example.) And to what extent was their spread due to long-distance travel (presumably by elites) as opposed to diffusion through networks of interacting communities? What was so attractive about the beliefs and rituals in Orkney that other people sought to emulate and adopt them?
  3. Were the Orkney-southern England links continuous between the 30th and the 26th century, or intermittent? This requires research at a pan-British level to find an answer. Also, to what extent were Orcadian practices adopted in Wessex? It could be argued that the inspiration for the first-phase monument at Stonehenge had been the Stones of Stenness. A comparative study of Grooved Ware-associated practices, traditions and material culture in Wessex and Orkney (and elsewhere in Britain) would be useful.
  4. How does the creation and use of 'rock art' articulate with the practices and traditions associated with the use of Grooved Ware and associated monuments? The two overlap spatially and chronologically, but what accounts for the non-overlapping parts of their distributions?
  5. Why were the large enclosures built? Were they centres for periodic ceremonial activity, and if so, how does their use compare with the use of Late Neolithic timber and stone circles and henges?
  6. How, if at all, did subsistence strategies and settlement organisation differ from the preceding centuries in the various regions of Scotland? Does the abundant evidence for marine resource exploitationin Orkney ( Skara Brae) mean that these resources formed part of the diet?


2.2.2 The 'Carinated Bowl' (CB) Neolithic

More is known about this second strand of Neolithisation, which appears to have involved immigration by small farming groups from the far north of France (i.e. the Nord-Pas de Calais region) to large parts of Britain and Ireland between the 41st century and c 3800 BC. Within Scotland, this strand reached as far as Caithness in the north and Galloway in the south-west, but appears not to have extended as far as the Northern or Western Isles, or the north-west mainland (Figure a). It is particularly strongly represented in north-east Scotland and it appears to follow major rivers, especially the Dee, Forth, Clyde and Nith; indeed, it may have spread rapidly from eastern Scotland to the south-west along the Forth-Clyde corridor and down the Nith. The farmers appear to have sought out and found areas of high agricultural potential, and proceeded to clear the forest in order to establish their settlements and farmland. (See Section 4.4 on the palaeoenvironmental record.)

Figure a: The 'Carinated Bowl Neolithic' in its early form, as manifested through pottery finds; information accurate to 2007. From Sheridan 2007b (where key to numbers can be found)

Recent Bayesian modelling of the available Scottish radiocarbon dates (Whittle et al. 2011, chapter 14) has claimed that it appeared in Scotland around 3800 BC, up to three centuries later than in Kent and the Thames Estuary, and as the result of secondary spread from south-east England. Whether that had indeed been the case is a moot point; both the use of Bayesian modelling (with its requirement to define an end-date to the phenomenon being modelled) and the assumption of chain-colonisation can be challenged and will continue to be debated. Be that as it may, it is clear that this strand of the Scottish Neolithic was indeed present in the parts of Scotland mentioned above by 3800 BC., appearing as a diaspora. Its key characteristics are as follows:

Economy (and see Section 4.1):

There is good evidence for mixed agricultural and pastoral farming. it is known that bread wheat (and other varieties of wheat), barley and linseed were cultivated, and other domesticated plants may have been cultivated as well (Bishop 2009). Palaeoenvironmental evidence at Crathes Warren Field, Aberdeenshire (Tipping et al. 2009), suggests that cereals were cultivated in one or more field in the vicinity of a large house. Faunal remains (and indeed coprolites) show that domesticated cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were kept, and analysis of absorbed lipids in pottery has shown that dairying was part of this introduced subsistence practice, since milk fat has been found in 'traditional Carinated Bowl' pottery (Šoberl and Evershed 2009). There is also evidence for the exploitation of wild resources, both plants (Bishop 2009) and animals. Hunting is demonstrated, for example, by the Rotten Bottom imported yew flatbow which, as argued in Section 5.3.2, is most likely to have been the possession of a farmer out on a deer hunt in the hills above Moffat. However, there is no evidence for the use of marine resources: Richards and Schulting's isotope analyses of early Neolithic human remains from coastal areas (Richards and Schulting 2006) has shown no trace of a marine element in the diet. Even though the first farmers had arrived by sea, they had no tradition of eating fish or sea mammals.

Domestic structures (see section 4.3)

Figure b: Selection of ground plans of 'CB Neolithic' dwelling structures: 1. 'Hall', Crathes Warren Field, Aberdeenshire (from Murray et al. 2009); 2. Smaller house, Garthdee Road, Aberdeenshire (from Murray and Murray 2005); 3. 'Huts', at Auchategan, Glendaruel, Argyll and Bute (from Marshall 1978)

These are mostly (but not exclusively) rectilinear and mostly plank, post-and-plank or post-built. There is a wide variety of sizes and durabilities, ranging from large houses - the so-called 'halls', which are mostly found in East Scotland but are also represented at Lockerbie in the south west, and which are limited to the beginning of the Neolithic - through smaller structures (e.g. the oval house at Garthdee Road, Aberdeen) and some flimsier, hut-like structures (including Auchategan on the slopes of Glendaruel, Argyll and Bute: Marshall 1978). This diversity reflects both the process of becoming established as farming communities and the nature of subsistence activities. The fact that the large houses ('halls') belong only to the first few generations of the CB Neolithic suggests that these were the initial, communal living places of the first few generations of settlers, who lived together until they were sufficiently well-established to 'bud off' into individual family farmsteads. And the existence of the small, hut-like structures - analogous to the flimsy structures seen in north-east England (see 3.3.2) - suggest that transhumance was practised as part of the overall subsistence strategy, at least in some parts of Scotland. Thus, the settlement pattern appears to show a basic pattern of year-round, house-based occupation with some seasonal settlement by a section of the community.

Figure c: Examples of 'CB Neolithic' funerary monuments: 1. Pitnacree, Perth and Kinross (from Kinnes 1992b); 2. Pyre covered by round mound, Boghead, Fochabers, Moray (from Burl 1984). 3. Mortuary enclosure, Inchtuthill, Perth and Kinross (from Barclay and Maxwell 1991); 4. Eweford West, East Lothian (from Lelong and MacGregor 2009)

Funerary practices (and see Theme 6) :

These feature the use of non-megalithic funerary monuments, followed by a translation of some of these into stone versions in parts of Scotland (as at Mid Gleniron and Cairnholy, for example). The non-megalithic monuments comprise:

    1. 'linear zone' timber mortuary structures, which were usually burnt down and eventually covered by long (rectangular or trapezoidal) or round mounds of earth and/or stone;
    2. rectangular, post-built enclosures which are assumed to have been areas for the temporary or permanent laying-out of the dead (and see 3.3.1 regarding their dating); and
    3. cremation pyres, covered by round mounds (as at Boghead, Moray: Burl 1984, and see Sheridan 2010 b for a review of Neolithic round mound dating).

There is evidence, from Raschoille Cave and Carding Mill Bay Cave, Argyll and Bute, for the use of caves for the deposition of human remains during the first half of the fourth millennium (Milner and Craig 2009, tables 15.3, 15.4). This is consistent with practice attested in Ireland where, for example, skeletal remains were found at Kilgreany Cave, Co. Waterford, associated with CB pottery (Dowd 2008).

Figure d: Reconstruction of 'linear zone' mortuary structure. From Ashmore 2006

Material culture (and see Theme 5):

The Carinated Bowl pottery tradition, which gives its name to this strand of the Neolithic, originated as one of several regional groups of the Chasséo-Michelsberg ceramic tradition in northern France. It features carinated and S-profiled bowls, uncarinated bowls and cups, and necked jars, mostly of fine fabric and including some very thin-walled vessels (c 4 mm); decoration is absent, save for the occasional use of fingertip fluting. A process of 'style drift' from the initial, 'traditional CB' style began in north-east Scotland within a few generations of the initial appearance of the CB Neolithic.

Figure e: Carinated Bowl pottery: 1. Carinated and S-profile bowls; 2. Uncarinated bowls and cups; 3. Necked jars. From Sheridan 2007.

The associated lithics comprise:

      1. ground (and sometimes polished) stone axeheads, including fine, non-utilitarian axeheads of Alpine jadeitite, eclogite and omphacitite which had been brought over from France as old, treasured heirlooms of individuals or communities;
      2. leaf-shaped arrowheads, mostly of flint;
      3. plano-convex flint knives with extensive retouch
      4. flakes and blades of flint and other stone including pitchstone
      5. end and side scrapers of flint and other stone

and it is very likely that coarse stone tools, including saddle querns, would also have been part of the earliest CB Neolithic repertoire. Early Neolithic organic finds are extremely rare, but the yew flatbow from Rotten Bottom - which had probably been imported from Cumbria or Ireland, most probably Cumbria - has already been mentioned.

Resource use and interaction networks:

The CB Neolithic lithics show that the early farming communities were not only making opportunistic use of locally-available resources but - as had been the case in the Middle Neolithic of northern France - were also targeting specific sources of good quality or 'special' stone from c 3800 BC and were circulating items (and, in some cases, roughouts) made of these stone types over considerable distances. The stone types in question included Arran pitchstone (Fig. c), tuff from Great Langdale in Cumbria (anf cf. the yew for the Rotten Bottom bow) and porcellanite from Tievebulliagh and Rathlin Island in Co. Antrim. (The Creag na Caillich source of calc-silicate hornfels does not seem to have been exploited until later during the 4th millennium: Edmonds et al. 1991.) The creation of networks over which objects, resources, ideas and people travelled is a characteristic of the early CB farming communities (and of their French forbears), and indicates that the immigrant communities would have sought each other out. The benefits of operating interaction networks would have included the maintenance of a viable pool of non-related partners - although whether this was a conscious choice, and/or articulated in terms of viable breeding populations, is a moot point.

[Fig  to go here]

As for other evidence that may potentially relate to the CB Neolithic, it has been claimed that a causewayed enclosure may exist at Sprouston, Roxburghshire (Scottish Borders), but this needs to be tested through excavation.

As with the Atlantic, Breton Neolithic, the reasons for the appearance of the CB Neolithic lie in the socio-economic dynamics of Middle Neolithic northern France. In this case, demographic pressure seems to be the root cause: an infilling of the Paris Basin, after a millennium of agricultural activity, seems to have resulted in an eastward and northward (and possibly westward) movement of people out of the Paris Basin during the late 5th millennium), with these diasporic groups evolving a suite of regionally-specific pottery traditions - of which the regional variant that gave rise to CB pottery is one (Vanmontfort 2001; Crombé and Vanmontfort 2007).

The question of the relationship of these putative north French incomers to the indigenous Mesolithic communities is a problem since, despite claims to the contrary (e.g. Thomas 2007), it is near-impossible to identify any sites or assemblages that demonstrate a process of acculturation. Nevertheless, given the apparent disappearance of the Mesolithic way of life from Scotland around the beginning of the 4th millennium, some process of acculturation must have taken place. It is not necessary to posit, as Thomas does, a 'population wipeout' as a consequence of the arrival of immigrant farmers; but exactly what happened remains a mystery. The paucity of Mesolithic human remains hinders attempts to identify introduced diseases, for example.

The main outstanding research questions relating to the CB strand of Neolithisation are as follows:

    1. Can the area of origin for the CB Neolithic be pinpointed more specifically? And can the forerunner of every aspect of the CB Neolithic be identified there? This requires further fieldwork and survey in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, and adjacent areas.
    2. The nature of, and any regional variability in, subsistence strategy, land use and settlement structure need to be clarified further. More and larger faunal assemblages need to be found as the existing dataset is relatively small.
    3. What was the nature of the relationship with pre-existing Mesolithic communities? How did the process of acculturation operate - and is there any evidence for the adoption of traditions associated with the Scottish Mesolithic by farming groups? (On present evidence, the answer to the last question is 'No'.) For how long after the appearance of the CB Neolithic did the Mesolithic way of life continue? Did it disappear because the farming way of life was perceived as preferable?
    4. Is the Sprouston site a causewayed enclosure? And if so, does it date to the beginning of the Neolithic? (Cf. Whittle et al. 2011 on the dating of causewayed enclosures.)