|Analysis of early Neolithic houses such as the structures at the Knap of Howar has shed vivid new light on Orkney’s Neolithic period.|
For decades, the accepted view of the Orcadian Neolithic was one of two cultural packages with a sharp break in the middle. New research has revealed a much more complex and nuanced picture, however. Carly Hilts spoke to Colin Richards to find out more.
The traditional understanding of the Neolithic period in Orkney has long been of a game of two halves, with each half represented by completely different cultural packages. The ‘early’ phase, in the 4th millennium BC, was associated with simple, single farmsteads and ‘stalled’ burial cairns (so-called because their interiors are divided into compartments using upright stones projecting from the side walls). They also contain Unstan ware pottery, a shallow, round-bottomed form with decoration limited to a collar below the rim. Sweeping in at the turn of the 3rd millennium BC, the late Neolithic apparently brought with it villages, passage-grave tombs, and flat-bottomed, ornately decorated Grooved ware pottery. With no clear sign of a transition between these two phenomena, it was suggested that this break might represent the arrival of a new group replacing the earlier culture. Recent analysis, however, is presenting a more nuanced picture. New dating evidence confirms an idea originally suggested by Colin Renfrew, blurring the lines between ‘early’ and ‘late’ Neolithic categories. [...] Current Archaeology