5.7 Substantial houses

Monumental Iron Age domestic structures termed 'substantial houses' (a term coined by Hingley in 1995) are known across Scotland. The category not only relates to dry-stone structures such as broch towers, some demonstrating extreme longevity, but can be applied to very large but inevitably less permanent timber buildings. There is a strong case for suggesting that 'substantial houses' are a social outcome that occurs in both dry-stone and organic materials, depending upon local materials availability, and their direct comparison is certainly worthy of further pursuit (Hingley 1995).

Such 'substantial houses' (Hingley 1992) were a conspicuous feature across Scotland in the Early Iron Age irrespective of architectural detail, and continued to be common in Atlantic Scotland in the Middle Iron Age (complex Atlantic roundhouses, broch towers, wheelhouses). However, elsewhere in Scotland such substantial houses appear to become less frequent, though some do occur in the early first millennium AD (e.g. the 'southern brochs' (Macinnes 1984), Culhawk Hill (Rees 1998), big timber houses in the South-west, e.g. Rispain Camp (Haggarty and Haggarty 1983), and large ring-ditch houses in the Moray Firth area (e.g. Birnie and Culduthel; Hunter 2002, Murray 2007).

  1. Are substantial houses individual domestic units or do they reflect the incorporation of multiple activities or groups of people under one roof - latterly disaggregated into separate structures (e.g. the Atlantic Roundhouses vs. cellular settlements of the Atlantic north and west or substantial timber roundhouses vs. scooped settlements in south-east Scotland).
  2. There is a need for and importance of locally-based models of the evidence for and context of substantial houses.
  3. Broad comparison of the different manifestations of substantial houses could offer many useful insights, especially in assessing how similar or different their social roles were.