Rural settlement: relating buildings, landscape, and people in the European Iron Age

Posted on May 16, 2017

Graeme Cavers and Anne Crone will present at the three-day seminar hosted by the First Millennia Studies Group,  Rural settlement: relating buildings, landscape, and people in the European Iron Age  from 18th to 21st June 2017.  Anne and Graeme will talk on Monday 18th June; details of their paper are below, and you can read more about the conference here.


The chronology of wetland settlement and its impact on Iron Age settlement dynamics in SW Scotland

Graeme Cavers and Anne Crone


The dendrochronological dating of wetland sites in SW Scotland is revolutionising our understanding of settlement dynamics in the area. Radiocarbon dates from these sites generally fall into the Halstatt plateau, restricting our ability to define chronological relationships between them, but dendro dates from the crannogs in Cults Loch and Whitefield Loch, and the loch village at Black Loch of Myrton are suggesting that the construction and occupation of these sites occurred during tightly defined ‘event horizons’. The dendro-dates from Cults Loch and Black Loch of Myrton suggest that the two sites could have been built within a year or two of each other, in the mid-5th century BC. After a hiatus of nearly two centuries both sites are once again occupied in the late 3rd/2nd century BC, when the Whitefield Loch crannog was also occupied. This pattern does not appear to be restricted to wetland sites: the palisaded enclosure at Cults, which has been the subject of an intensive radiocarbon-dating program, also displays two separate episodes of construction, one in the mid-1st millennium BC and one in the last centuries BC, separated by a significant hiatus in which there is no evidence of any activity on the site. Furthermore, there is no evidence from any of the wetland sites that the occupation episodes were of any duration greater than a generation.

For the first time, we are able to approach issues of settlement contemporaneity with some prospect of resolving patterns on a meaningful scale, with the consequence that the configuration of the social landscape may be inferred. Two implications are explored here: firstly that settlement foci (and therefore perhaps political or territorial units) were extremely durable over timescales measured in centuries, even where episodes of activity may have been short-lived. Secondly, the choice of wetland over dryland settlement was clearly not arbitrary over time, and perhaps occurred in response to social or political crises.