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The Neolithic
 
Stone Circle, Killin, Perthshire
Stone Circle, Killin, Perthshire

There was no abrupt transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic, it is likely that there was a gradual adoption of the Neolithic technologies rather than an incoming people which caused the changes which occured. The Neolithic is an archaeological construct which means the moving away from a hunter gatherer way of life to a settled farming one. Other changes are important too, permanent settlements, new religious beliefs resulting in tombs and 'temples' being constructed, new forms of flint and stone tools, and the introduction of pottery. Taken together these changed the way of life of the people who lived in what is now Scotland totally.

To begin with there would have been few farmers and it would have taken centuries for any changes to become noticeable in the landscape. Areas of woodland would have to be cleared, and for this reason axes were very important to the Neolithic farmer. These axes were produced locally at sites such as Creag na Caillich north of Killin in Perthshire as well as at Tayside and Grampian, and were also imported from Great Langdale in Cumbria and Tievebulliagh in Antrim. After the trees were removed the soil was broken with simple hoe-type or ard implements. Slash-and-burn evidence is widely spread across the country but most of the evidence for Neolithic settlement comes from tombs rather than the settlements themselves.

There were varying tomb-building traditions in different parts of the country as well as chanfing traditions through time. In large parts of the east, including the Moray Firth, the long or round barrow was popular (these are called cairns if stones were used in the construction instead of earth). On the west coast chambered tombs were the preferred monument for the dead. The most widely known tomb, however, is the megalithic monument. These are the most intensively studied of the Scottish monuments and this has shown that there are clearly definable regional traditions in the building of these monuments.

Ring of Brodgar
Ring of Brodgar, Orkney
Callanish, Lewis
Callanish, Lewis

Skara Brae
Of settlement sites less is known, the most famous being Skara Brae in Orkney. The settlement is located on the west coast of mainland Orkney at Skaill Bay. and survived virtually intact due to being covered for many centuries, the remains were not discovered until 1850 after a bad storm uncovered them. The site was occupied over a long period of time, 3100BC - 2450BC, and the settlement was extensively remodelled several times during this period. There is little evidence remaining of the earliest settlement but the ground plans of at least six houses have been found in the next phase of building. The remains visible today are from the phase of building just before the sand dunes finally covered the abandoned site, these houses were rectangular or square with one room and a central hearth. Wall recesses were constructed to hold beds.

Skara Brae   Close  Close
Skara Brae
Skara Brae
Skara Brae   Close  Close
Skara Brae
Skara Brae
Skara Brae (click images for enlargements)

Other stone settlements to survive include Knap of Howar and Scord of Brouster. At Knap of Howar the individual houses are separate while at Skara Brae they are clustered together and linked with passages. The individual houses had a central hearth and alcoves in the walls for storage. A Skara Brae type house has also been discovered at Rinyo. On mainland Scotland Neolithic longhouses have been discovered at Balbridie in northern Kincardineshire and at Crathes and Monboddo, these last two have not been excavated, however, and their dating is less certain.

Skara Brae, Orkney
Skara Brae, Orkney

Various pottery styles have been identified in Neolithic Scotland, these include Unstan Ware which is named after a chambered cairn on Orkney. This pottery is typified by round bottom bowls with a pronounced shoulder and a decorated collar. It has been found in the Hebrides and northern Scotland as well as on Orkney. At Knap of Howar both utilitarian ware and much finer pottery was found and it is thought they were all manufactured on the site itself. At Skara Brae a different type of pottery was used, this is known as 'Grooved Ware', a heavy-looking pottery made from a course and gritty clay. The decoration used on Grooved Ware included zones of grooved, cut or applied raised decoration which was usually of geometric style. The jars could have a diameter of up to 0.6m and were flat-based and often heavily decorated.

Other Neolithic monuments in Scotland include henges and stone circles. Henges are widely spread across the country including Cairnpapple Hill in West Lothian, Balfarg in Fife and two in Orkney - the Ring of Brogar and the Stones of Stenness. A henge is a banked and ditched enclosure, there is a central platform enclosed by a deep ditch, the ditch material is then thrown onto the outer edge to form a bank around the whole. At Stenness it has been estimated that over 20,000 man hours of work was required to build the henge. The interior of the henge occasionally includes a stone circle but rectangular and wooden structures have also been identified. The use(s) to which henges were put is a much debated topic with the full spectrum from settlement to religious being put forward, it is likely that they were put to various uses at diffrent periods.

Between around c.2500 BC and c.2000 BC metalwork started to make its way into Scotland and thus began the Bronze Age.

History Books on the Neolithic:

Author Title Published Price Order:
Ashmore, P. Neolithic & Bronze Age Scotland 1996 £15.99
or
$29.95
Amazon.co.uk
or
Amazon.com
The story of Scotland from the first farmer to the beginning of the Iron Age, a period which covers the construction of settlements and the enigmatic stone circles. Another fine addition to the Historic Scotland series.
1. An untilled land 2. Farmers from 4000-3500BC 3. Regional Diversity increases 3500-3000BC 4. Temples of the Earth and Sky 3000-2500BC 5. Cults of Conquerors 2500-2000BC 6. Villagers 2000-1500BC 7. Mastering the Land 1500-1000BC 8. A Time of Swords 1000-750BC.
Barclay, Gordon Temples and Tombs 1998 £5.99 Amazon.co.uk
The coming of the first farmers to Scotland about 6000 BC saw the beginning of the transformation of Scotland's landscape from wild to domestic, the beginnings of the felling of the primeval forests and the building of monuments on the land. This book covers this period.
Feachem, R.W. Guide to Prehistoric Scotland 1992 £12.99 Amazon.co.uk
The numerous prehistoric monuments and sites which survive in Scotland include many that are widely known, but a great many more that are hardly ever visited. This guide, again available, contains examples of both types. Having placed these prehistoric and Pictish survivals in their human and chronological setting, the author provides fully annotated alphabetical lists under subject headings.
Complete with full Ordnance Survey map references, photographs and drawings, the guide is not only an invaluable work of reference; it will enable both amateur archaeologists and interested visitors to locate and interpret the most important visible remains of prehistoric Scotland.
Oram, R. Scottish Prehistory 1996 £8.99
or
$17.95
Amazon.co.uk
or
Amazon.com
This handbook on the archaeology of prehistoric Scotland incorporates a gazetteer of key sites and monuments. It ranges from the seventh millennium BC, through the Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, to the emergence of the early historic kingdoms after the Celtic Iron Age.
Piggott, S. Scotland Before History 1990 £6.95 Amazon.co.uk
 
Ritchie, Graham & Anna Scotland: Archaeology and Early History 1991 £15.50
or
$17.95
Amazon.co.uk
or
Amazon.com
An authoritative coverage of the early history of the country and the archaeological evidence that we have for the people who inhabited it. Deals with early farming communities, henge monuments, early metalworking, early Celts, the Romans, Britons and Angles, and the Picts.
Ross, Stewart Ancient Scotland 1991 £19.99 Amazon.co.uk
A fine popular introduction to the history of the ancient races of Scotland and the relics they have left behind them. Covers the Beaker Folk, the first Celts, the Roman invasion, the Picts and the Vikings.