|29 June 2003
Orkney site may be first farm in Britain
The only Neolithic wooden structures found in Orkney (reported in Archaeo News, 7 May 2003) could also be the earliest farm settlements discovered so far in Britain. The finds at the foot of Wideford Hill may shed light on one of the most disputed subjects in archaeology. Successive generations of archaeologists have argued over when and how prehistoric societies made the transition from hunter gathering to an agri-pastoral way of life. The Wideford Hill site, dated to the early to mid fourth millennium BCE, has produced evidence that the people of the time were herding animals and growing barley, probably in garden patches around the houses of the settlement. The discovery of the Orkney structures could contribute to knowledge of the Neolithic period, adding to the picture of a settled lifestyle in villages and farmsteads on the island dating back at least 6,000 years.
Dr. Colin Richards, of Manchester University, led the dig which could produce some of the earliest dates for settlement on the islands. “Most of the farms would have had sheep and cattle and there were red deer knocking around. Interestingly, these red deer would have to have been brought over from the mainland. It appears that life would have revolved around transport by sea, and shows the importance of a fishing and maritime culture in these areas which continues to this day.”
Post holes on the site show the position of a number of circular structures, each with a central hearth. This evidence of wooden structures is surprising, as Orkney was treeless at the time. Dr Richards said: “It would have been warmer and a bit wetter during this period on Orkney but it would have looked pretty similar to the way its does now.” The wooden buildings must therefore have been constructed from driftwood from the shore. As previously reported, radiocarbon dating is now under way to determine a more precise timeframe for the settlement.
Source: www.theherald.co.uk (20 June 2003)
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