Neolithic Villages

1. The Neolithic Village of Skara Brae, Orkney Islands, off the north coast of Scotland

Neolithic Villages – by Alan Mason -

Most of us are fascinated by our Neolithic ancestors who have left so much in the way of stone buildings and earth constructions. They lived around 10,000 to 7,000 years ago, beyond the reach of our oldest written records, so we depend entirely upon the archaeological evidence to understand the details of their everyday life.

Fortunately the skills of archaeologists have grown tremendously across the 20 century in their ability to detect and interpret the slightest colour changes in soil. Scientific and forensic tests have also added greatly to the store of information on the Neolithic period, particularly with regard to accurate dating.

Preservation versus Reconstruction

Towards the end of the 20 century the issue of reconstructions became a matter of contention among archaeologists. Some argued that it was an abuse of the site,
likely to damage or permanently impair the existing evidence which had been uncovered. Any reconstruction was likely to reflect the current state of archaeology and was likely to become dated and inaccurate over the years. The efforts of Sir Arthur Evans in “reconstructing” the ruins of Knossus, on the Greek island of Crete were seen as a horrifying example of their worst fears.

On the other hand, some argued that archaeology is an expensive business, and it is now heavily dependent on public money. Fortunately the general public in most countries approve of archaeology because they are proud of their inheritance. They accept the idea of public expenditure on excavation and conservation of sites.

However this means that archaeologists have a responsibility to explain their work as clearly and excitingly as possible to the public who pay their bills. When there are many near-identical sites, reconstructions are one of the best ways of exciting public interest. Little real damage to the site occurs and, moreover, archaeologists often discover much more about Neolithic peoples by the very act of reconstruction. It is, in itself, a piece of archaeological research, in that it soon becomes clear as to what is and is not possible in construction. Practical activity is worth ten times more than any armchair theorising.

A Personal View

This is very much a personal account of Neolithic villages, in that it is not a comprehensive account but describes only those that I have visited or have heard about from friends. Recently, I was lent a memory stick with a set of photographs by George and Joan Ford, of the Neolithic village of Torre d’en Galmes on Menorca.

This called to mind some of the other similar sites I have visited, both in Britain and abroad. Khirokitia, and Lemba, on Cyprus, are most like Galmes because they are Mediterranean and based on the white limestone rocks typical of the whole region. The three British sites are quite different from the Mediterranean ones, both geologically and also climatologically.

[The Chalcolithic Period

The Neolithic Period on Cyprus was closely followed by the Chalcolithic Period and was especially fascinating, not only because of the name which was unknown to me. It translates as “Copper / Stone Period” when the people began to use some copper tools along with the widespread use of stone tools. Pure copper was readily available on Cyprus, but it is a soft metal and sharp edges blunt readily. The skill of alloying it with lead or zinc to make bronze or brass came much later, in the Bronze Age.

The reason I mention the Chalcolithic Period here, is because we have such a good idea of what the men, women, children and warriors wore, how they were armed, and what their religious buildings looked like. These people lived quite close in time to the Neolithic, and may give us clues to the dress and appearance of people of the earlier period.

All this information comes from the wonderful ceramics that the Chalcolithic people produced showing their everyday activities. By comparison, in Britain, the only everyday things we know about are a few loom weights, and the ceramic beakers that the Neolithic people produced. Excellent displays of the Chalcolithic objects are found in the Pafos, Museum and the central Museum in the capital, Nicosia. ]

A. KHIROKITIA, CYPRUS

Cyprus is an island at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It is about 280 Km (175 miles) long and 100 Km (63 miles) wide with a central mountain massif rising to 1,950 metres (6,398 feet).

The Neolithic period on Cyprus is thought to have begun somewhere between 5,800 BC and 5,500 BC. Four archaeological sites have been identified from this time; (a) Kalavassos-Tenta and (b) Khirokitia, both near the south coast; ( c) the islet of Petra tou Limniti on the north coast and (d) Cape Andres-Kastros at the tip of the Karpass Peninsula at the north-east extremity of the island. They are shown on the map of the island (2)

Several other sites are shown on the map but they are not named, and there is no key to explain them. It is possible they are simply the sites of isolated Neolithic finds.

This village of Khirokitia lies just off main motorway from the port of Limassol to the capital, Nicosia. (3) It is a rather remote inland site unlike Lemba, or Galmes.

2. Neolithic Sites on the Island of Cyprus

(3) Khirokitia, Cyprus, general view of village with motorway in distance

When I first visited it in 1992 it was possible to walk about over the whole site, but by 1997, when George and I saw it, they had sensibly restricted access to avoid damage to the excavated remains. There were a few small wooden labels in English at various places but the whole site lacked well-designed information boards. There was an illustrated information booklet from which some of these maps are adapted. Cyprus is a small country with an enormous number of interesting archaeological sites, so that it is a major task for the Cypriot authorities to keep up with the demand for excavation, preservation, conservation, and the provision of information for visitors.

(4) Khirokitia, Cyprus, showing the closely clustered stone circles of the huts

5. Contour Map of the Khirokitia Site showing Excavation Areas

Khirokitia is situated in the foothills of the Troodos mountain massif about six miles from the south coast. It has been built on the steep slopes of a rocky eminence called Vouni (5). It is bordered by the River Maroni to the north and east, and by a range of higher hills to the west.

The stone circles of the houses straggle up a ridge towards a high point with a view of the lower countryside. There is something like a “high street”, a winding alley between the buildings. (5, shown in red,) The original excavator, Porphyrios Dikaios came to the same conclusion after his work here between 1936 and 1946. However, later excavations, (1977-1984) were able to demonstrated that the long linear structure rises to a height of 3.5 metres and is much more likely to be the footings of a substantial wall.

Apparently the houses to the west are of a later construction. The whole site has a distinctly defensible appearance, not a fortress exactly, but certainly a secure settlement. The western side lacks steep contours and is the weakest part of the defences, so a stout wall makes good sense. Hence the linear structure was not central to the village but formed its western edge.

It is reminiscent of the construction of the typical “Acropolis” (high town or citadel) of the classical Greek period, whose most famous example is in Athens, on the Greek mainland.

One disputed view is that the stone hut circles were corbelled upwards (6) to create “beehive cells”, (from the shape of 19C beehives). Corbelling involves producing a series of circular courses of stone of gradually decreasing size. It requires great care in construction but produces a building of great stability. We know from other sites that the Neolithic people had learned the art of corbelling. A square stone central pillar supported an upper loft, and a partition wall. There was an external well in the courtyard.

6. A reconstruction of the interior of a beehive cell, Khirokitia, Cyprus,

7. Architectural drawing of the foundations of three cells (XXVII, XXVIII, and XXIX)

Others have rejected this view, and believe the roofs were flat and carried on wooden rafters laid across vertical walls, as the lack of post holes suggests. The excavations revealed that the floors, interior (and probably) external walls were plastered and decorated with red ochre. The plastering was regularly renewed. Up to ten layers have been found.

Everyday Life

The inhabitants of Khirokitia were farmers who cultivated wheat and barley, (proved from the carbonised grains) harvested with flint sickles hafted in wood or bone. The grain was ground in “saddle querns”. These are specially made stone blocks, over which cylindrical stones were rocked to and fro to crush the seeds. The bones from sheep, goats, pigs and deer indicate that they ate meat from hunting and raising domestic stock.

The people, who belonged to what is known as the Aceramic (Non-Pottery) Neolithic Period, made tools of flint, bone and stone. They used flint scrapers, knives and awls. The igneous grey-green andesite found on the banks of the river below was used to make polished stone axes and beautiful polished stone bowls (8).

We assume that they had not yet discovered how to fire clay in an oven, but they knew how to make quicklime for plaster in a lime-kiln. Bone was used to fashion small knives, awls, and needles. The absence of fish-hooks, as well as mollusc and sea-urchin shells may suggest that they did not exploit the marine resources of the nearby coast.

8. Andesite stone bowl 9. Stone Idol

Although we have no idea about the religion of the people of Khirokitia we do have examples of small figurines, (9) which may have had religious significance for them. The dead were buried in shallow pits in the floors of the houses, in a crouched position, and accompanied by grave goods like jewellery or stone bowls. (10) The skeletal remains indicate that the people were short in stature, 1.61 m (5′ 3″) for men and 1.50 m (4’11”) for women.

10. Burial at Khirokitia, with stone bowls as grave goods

B. LEMBA, CYPRUS

Lemba, (also spelled Lempa, but the local Greek pronunciation is “lem ba) lies quite close to the sea, on the outskirts of the popular resort of Pafos, near the Art College. It seemed to be rather neglected by visitors when I was there in March 1999, but there are so many archaeological sites in Pafos, and this was only the start of the main tourist season.

What makes Lemba unusual among Neolithic villages is that some reconstruction has taken place, (11, and 12) in creating entire reproduction Neolithic houses. This is part of a project carried out by the University of Edinburgh in co-operation with the archaeological authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.

11. Plan of Lemba Village and Reconstructions with Archaeological Details.

The houses were based on a levelled stone surface with one or more post holes carved out of the rock. The walls were wide and circular and composed of roughly coursed stones. (12) Given that the people of the time made quicklime in limekilns it is possible that the stones were mortared in position.

The roofs were quite substantial. Heavy posts were slotted into the post holes in the rock. There may have been one central post (13) and a set of rafters arranged radially, or there may be several posts permitting a series of rafters arranged at right angles. (14) The roofing

material seems to be some kind of reed–like plant arranged in thick layers alternately at right angles to each other. The entire roofing was completed in a surprisingly thorough manner, considerably more substantial (14, 15) than the average semi-detached house in the UK.

In addition, the circular central hearth of stones, was plastered, and frequently so were the floors and walls. (13, 14, 16) The walls were probably decorated with designs in red “terra rossa” clay on the white plaster. (16, 17) The house interiors were probably a lot more civilised than any of us would expect when viewing the bare wall foundations of sites like Khirokitia, or Galmes, or those in the UK. Given that the people of the villages had looms for weaving, it is more than likely that they covered their plaster floors and walls with rugs and carpets.

12. General View of Lemba Site

13. Roundhouse with single central roof-post 14. Roundhouse with several roof-posts

15. Detail of Roofing Material 16. Terra Rossa Wall Plaster Decoration

In addition the reconstructors have assumed that the external walls of the houses were also plastered and the terra rossa was used to decorate them. (17, 18)

(I don’t think that there was an information booklet in 1999, and there was only one information board at the time. Unfortunately I only took one picture of the rather battered information board, and my understanding of the archaeological work done there is fragmentary. It may be that the situation has improved considerably over the last decade.)

17. External Plastering and Terra Rossa Decoration of Roundhouse.

18. Doorway of Roundhouse, showing Thickness of Walls, Projecting Rafters and terra rossa.

C. TORRE D’EN GALMES, MENORCA, SPAIN

Menorca, often anglicised to “Minorca” is one of the Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the western Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of Spain. It is the most easterly island of the group; about 132 miles from the Spanish coast at Barcelona, and is about 48 Km (30 miles) long, and 24 Km (15 miles) wide.

The island is relatively low-lying and its highest point is Monte Toro at 358 m (1174 feet). The rivers have cut down into the softer sedimentary rocks creating deep wooded valleys and occasionally gorges. Near the coast the rivers create inlets for the sea, and end in sand bars and small beaches between rugged limestone cliffs.

The archaeological site of Torre d’en Galmes (or Gaumes) lies in the plain, but near just such a valley, about six miles from an inlet and beach at Cala n’ Porter. (19) Archaeological sites on Menorca are frequently given the general descriptive term, “Torre” which means “tower”, though few of them have anything remotely resembling a tower. For brevity the site, from now on is referred to as “Galmes”.

19. The Location of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes) on Menorca

The stereo-diagrammatic map (20) gives a better impression of how Galmes is sited on the flat plain overlooking the wooded valley leading down to Cala en Porter, with the provincial capital, Alaior, at the valley head. The aerial view (21) does not show the whole Galmes site, but it gives a good demonstration of the flatness of the area, and the cover of light woodland and garigue (Mediterranean scrub).

20. Stereo-diagram of Location of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes)

21. Aerial View of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes)

The history of the pre-historic stone monuments of Menorca and Mallorca is a complex one and I do not want spend much time in discussing it here. One of the characteristic structures is the “talayot”, or “talaiot”, a kind of small stone fortress. This gave rise to what is termed “The Talaiotic Period in Menorcan history. The latest archaeological thinking is that these buildings were constructed during the Iron Age (on Menorca about 1,000 BC onwards), and would consequently fall outside the remit of this essay, which is on the Neolithic, a much earlier period. Unfortunately the Galmes site is also within this time period.

However, as it was George Ford’s enthusiasm for the Galmes site and Joan Ford’s pictures which set in train the stimulus for this essay, it is only fair to include this material in the text.

It is clear that the Menorcan people had been used to skilled working with large stones for building, long before the talayots were in vogue. One imagines that their Neolithic ancestors were producing round cells much the same as those seen at Galmes or the other sites described here.

22. Plan of the Galmes Site

The occupation dates of the Galmes site (from 1,300 BC to 123 BC) encompass a long period of time, about 1,200 years, from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. The three talayots are sited on higher ground and may well have served as watch-towers. Their shape is that of a truncated cone. They were built from a range of stone sizes but they were carefully coursed and laid without lime mortar.

23. The Three Talayots at Galmes as Reconstructed

Some have small rooms and inner passageways within the structure, reminiscent of the Egyptian Pyramids. This is not as fanciful as might appear because a bronze statue of the Egyptian God, Imhotep was found within one of the other enclosures on the Galmes site.

24. A Talayot Showing Some of the Internal Structure.

The illustrations of talayots on the information board (23) are shown reconstructed and somewhat idealised, whereas the reality (24) is less neat but does show some internal detail. Although the talayots are big structures it can be seen (24) that the stones from which they are built are relatively small. However, there are communal buildings at Galmes that are built from much larger stones.

The type of stone construction at Galmes is termed “megalithic” (big stones) and is characteristic of the Neolithic period onwards. Of course, these stones have not been “dressed” (that is, cut neatly to size with flat faces and straight edges), but they will have been given a certain amount of trimming to help them fit together more easily.

The figure of Joan Ford standing at the gateway (25) to the building known as the Taula (Temple) gives some idea of the sizes of the megaliths and the clever way in which they were fitted together. It was within the Taula that the statue of the Egyptian God, Imhotep was discovered. The view of the interior (26) shows even larger megaliths and the difficulty of manoeuvring them into position must have been considerable.

25. Megalithic Construction of the Taula (Temple) Facade and Gateway.

26. Great Megaliths Within the Interior of the Taula

What are more appropriate to this essay are the domestic buildings, if we set to one side the defensive and religious constructions. The general plan (22) shows a considerable number of these, and Galmes was clearly a much larger than Khirokitia, Lemba, and as we shall see, Skara Brae or the Cornish villages. I have chosen just one house from the many described and illustrated.

27. The Circular House – a Reconstruction

 28. The Circular House – an Aerial View

The ground plan of the house was more nearly circular than the Neolithic houses, with a central court surrounded by different rooms. The fire for cooking food was normally found in the court, and archaeologists believe that the court was also used for collecting rainwater from the roofs of other dwellings. This court was probably the base for much daily activity so the other rooms were used for storage or as bedrooms. The reconstruction (27) shows weaving, bread-making and water collection from a cistern

There is one other noteworthy domestic structure, termed “The Covered Enclosure” (29). It is a long, curved tunnel, composed of upright stone jambs, topped by horizontal lintels laid across. (30) In the Talaiotic Period, these features have traditionally been given the rather grandiose title of “hypostyle halls”, and they are usually built next to houses, and may have been used as stables for animals or stores. Although they are not underground, they are clearly, in all but name, the very familiar fougous or souterrains, of other ancient sites. (These features are discussed in detail in Sections E, F, G, and H.)

29. Stereo-diagram of the Covered Enclosure.

30. Megalithic Structure of the Covered Enclosure.

31. The Rainwater Collection System

Other systems for rainwater collection have been discovered at Talaiotic excavation sites but this one is the most complex. The pear-shaped cisterns were hewn out of the bedrock, as were the decanting cavities and channels. The illustration does not show a complete picture because several elements are not connected by channels.

D. SKARA BRAE, ORKNEY ISLES, UK

The Orkney Isles are one of the outposts of the British Isles lying off the north coast of Scotland, just across the Pentland Firth from John o’ Groats. Most of the islands are flat with the exception of Hoy which is mountainous. They are a rich source of archaeological remains particularly of the Neolithic period.

Three of Britain’s most spectacular Neolithic sites are there; Skara Brae, Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar. The Ring is a big stone circle of quite large stones, some up to twelve feet high lying in a narrow neck of land between two lochs. Maes Howe is a great mound of earth covering a stone passageway leading to large hollow built of stones. These are corbelled out to create an eleven-feet–high central chamber.

 32. The Location of the Orkney Isles 33. Three Neolithic Sites on the Orkneys

 Skara Brae (1) is the remains of a Neolithic village which was completely covered by drifting sands, and preserved from damage and stone robbing until it was discovered and archaeologically excavated in the 1920s. Unlike the round Neolithic houses, those at Skara Brae are rectangular. Each of them is supplied with a series of rectangular wall compartments which may have been bed spaces, or storage cupboards. (34, 35) The most stunning aspect of the houses is that they look as if they were abandoned about thirty years ago rather than thirty centuries ago.

The west coast of Orkney is rugged and subject to the pounding waves of the prevailing Atlantic westerlies, which tend to discourage coastal settlement. However, when the village was founded, (around 2,500 – 3,000 BC) it was set well back from the shore, and a freshwater loch may have separated it from the sandy beach and the sea.

The northern edge of the site had been partially eroded by the sea, until a great storm in 1850 exposed the middens (rubbish heaps) and the rectangular stone houses. Two unusual features include (i) the fact that the site is almost subterranean due to the all-enveloping middens, and (ii) the remarkable degree of standardisation and uniformity in the design of the rectangular dwellings. This has been interpreted as “a very strong corporate identity amongst the families of the community.” (p 138) Anna Ritchie O&S, ESH.

34. Interior of House 1, Skara Brae.

 35. Skara Brae – Exterior of House, bedded in midden and sand.

Each house consists of a single room with thick drystone walls, in some places up to ten feet (3 metres) high. Small cells were built into the walls, possibly for storage, but in some cases drains to the exterior indicate they were internal lavatories.

A large square hearth-stone occupied the centre of the room. Stone wall cupboards and stone boxes sunk into the floor increased the storage space. “The visitor’s eye should add heather and furs to the beds, skin canopies spanning the bedposts, decorative pottery jars to the dresser, flame to the hearth, dried meats hanging from the rafters…” (p. 139 Anna Ritchie “Orkney & Shetland” Exploring Scotland’s Heritage). A view of the external courtyard is offered below. (36)

36. Reconstruction of Skara Brae in Neolithic Times

E. CHYSAUSTER, CORNWALL, UK

Chysauster, (pronounced “chor-ster”) is about three miles to the north of Penzance, (37) and while not as close to the coast as Lemba, the sea is only three miles away to south and north. The geology is granite rock, partially overlain by “rab”, a yellowish-brown clay, and a weathering product of granite.

 37. Cornish Neolithic Sites

38. Nine Courtyard Houses in Chysauster

The village (38) consists of nine houses of the “courtyard type”. This means that entry is through a doorway in the thick stone walls into a central courtyard off which there are several rooms. (39)

39. Rooms in a Typical Courtyard Houses in Chysauster

The entry faces away from the SW prevailing wind. It is not clear whether the courtyard was normally roofed, but given the wet, windy weather of Cornwall for much of the year it seems highly likely.

Typically, off each courtyard are a Large Round Room, a Long Room and a Small Round Room. Socketed stones to support the central roof beam have been found in most rooms including some of the courtyards. It may be that it was too difficult to cut post holes straight into the hard floor granite, as the people of Khirokitia and Lemba had done with their limestone floors.

Limestone was immediately available at the three Mediterranean sites but in Cornwall the nearest chalk or limestone was 150 miles away, in the Downs around Dorchester. It seems unlikely that the inhabitants of the village would have been able to afford plaster to cover the walls or floors. It may be that clay, especially the “rab” mentioned earlier could be used to cover the hard stone of the walls.

Finally, each house complex was provided with a flat area romantically termed, “the Garden Terrace” (39) a cultivation plot for vegetables. This was seen as a new design feature as the houses of older villages, like Carn Euny, are more closely locked together with no room for individual gardens.

The plan of a single Chysauster house, 6b, shows (39) a series of interesting features, like a paved entrance passageway, a sump into which drained a series of water channels, several socketed stones which would form the base for upright roof beams, a curved platform which may have been a sleeping bench, and a long room capable of being divided by partitions into two rooms.

40. Aerial View of Village from Northwest 41. Walls of Chysauster

The village appears more primitive in the picture reconstruction below, (42) compared with the appearance of the collection of well-constructed houses seen in Lemba.

42. A Reconstruction of Chysauster during the Neolithic Period

F. CARN EUNY, CORNWALL, UK

Carn Euny, (pronounced “carn yoo nee”), is about two miles from the sea, (37) near Land’s End. The village consists of about ten houses closely packed together. (43) The individual houses are smaller and less complex than those of Chysauster. A map of one of the larger houses is shown. (44) House 1 has its central courtyard, one Long Room with a partial wall, capable dividing it into two, and two smaller rooms. It also has a neatly-laid entrance pavement. (45)

One of the most interesting aspects of this house is that it leads into a fougou, (45, and 46) a feature not seen in Chysauster village. Fougous are curved underground tunnels constructed from large stone jambs (wall uprights) and lintels (roof beams). (46) They are described more fully in Section G. They are normally separate from the village at a short distance, so it is unusual to see one leading off from one of the rooms in a house. (45)

43. Plan of the Neolithic Houses at Carn Euny

44. Plan of House 1 at Carn Euny

45. Paved Entrance to House 1 with the Fougou on the right

46. View South-West along the Carn Euny Fougou

G. FOUGOUS OR SOUTERRAINS

Although this article is principally concerned with Neolithic villages, I have added two sites on fougous or souterrains because they are unusual and are associated with village sites.

A fougou or souterrain is a curved underground tunnel solidly constructed of large stone jambs and lintels, (46) and are found only in limited parts of Britain, notably Cornwall and Angus in Scotland. Their precise purpose is not certain, and they may have been, store houses, refuges in times of danger, or even religious rooms like domestic chapels.

The term “fougou” is the Cornish (Celtic language) for “cave”, which these structures definitely are not. It has taken on the more specialised meaning of “an underground tunnel” given in the previous paragraph when applied to archaeological remains in Cornwall. In Scotland these structures are normally called “souterrains” (under the ground) by archaeologists, though why a French word is preferred, remains a mystery.

H. HALLIGGYE FOUGOU, HELSTON, CORNWALL, UK

The fougou is in the grounds of the estate of Trelowarren, now an hotel; it lies about five miles south-east of the small town of Helston, Cornwall, in the far west of Britain. (37) I have marked some of the many ancient sites, like tumuli (burial mounds) earthworks (“rounds”) and field systems around Trelowarren, on the Ordnance Survey map.

47. Ancient Sites in the Vicinity of the Halliggye Fougou

It consists of steps going down to a long narrow tunnel leading to three sectioned chambers. All are lined with large stone blocks creating jambs (vertical sides) and lintels, (horizontals laid across them).

48. Ground Plan of Halliggye Fougou

No photographs are available of the Inner Chamber or the Curved Tunnel probably because of the size of the Small Doorway which made access difficult for me. A boiler suit is most suitable and necessary for scrambling about in dirty, restricted spaces. Neither have I managed to obtain an archaeological guide to the site.

I. BARNS OF AIRLIE SOUTERRAIN (FOUGOU), ANGUS, UK

The place-name “Barn’s o’ Airlie” originally described new-made farm buildings, near to the Castle of Airlie. There is no village here, so it is difficult to find the farm on a conventional road map, so an Ordnance Survey map is essential. It lies about four miles west of the town of Kirriemuir, in the county of Angus, north-east Scotland. (53)

53. Location of Barns of Airlie Site in the Angus region of Scotland.

The Angus region in which Airlie is situated (54) is largely given over to arable farming, with barley and oats a speciality. The oats go for porridge meal and the barley for malt in the brewing of beer and the production of Scotch whisky.

54. Angus Countryside in the Region of Airlie

When I visited the site in 1993 I knocked at the farmhouse door for permission to walk over the farmer’s land to the souterrain. He readily agreed and came with me to ensure I found it, as it was well-hidden. He left me, saying, “Follow the line of the dyke (dry-stone wall) (55) until you get to the top, and you will see a hole low down on your right. Step down into it.”

The wall rose gently to the top of a small hill (55) and then descended to the next small valley. To the right was an inconspicuous gap between fronds and grasses. (56) I stepped down about three feet and found a tunnel about five feet high and about four feet wide. Having brought a torch I was able to explore it.

55. Route to the Barns of Airlie Souterrain 56. Entrance to the Airlie Souterrain

One of the characteristics of fougous and souterrains is that the floor is usually quite dry inside. This is presumably because the builders chose the location very carefully so that soil water would readily drain away. This particular souterrain was sited on the crest of a small hill for that very purpose.

57. Interior of the Souterrain, Showing its Curved Structure

This is one of the best preserved souterrains in Angus, for the roof remains intact except where a lintel has been removed to create the modern access to the space. The gallery is some 62 feet (19 m) long and 6 feet (2 m) broad and is lintelled at a height of 5′ 10”(1.8 m); the original entrance passage, as yet unexcavated, is at the east end of the gallery.

There is a massive basal course of boulders, with the upper corbelled courses of smaller slabs and boulders with the roof slabs above. One of the roof lintels bears eight cup-markings as well as serpent-like grooves, which suggests a re-used stone from the Bronze Age period or earlier. The excavated finds were largely unremarkable, including quernstones as well as animal bones.

This souterrain is one of seven in the immediate vicinity, five close to, or on the farm. There are no signs at the surface, of the contemporary hut circle complex which used the souterrain. This is possibly due to deeper and more efficient ploughing during the 20 C.

(I failed to find any official guide to the Airlie Souterrain while I was there, but the details above were gleaned from the magnificent archaeological series “Exploring Scotland’s Heritage”, the volume entitled “Fife and Tayside” p 161, and the excellent local guide, “Angus and the Mearns” by Richard Oram, p 64)

This brief review only scratches the surface of the extensive archaeological remains of ancient villages in Britain and Ireland as well as in the rest of Europe. The reader is encouraged to make a visit to one of these sites, either in Britain or elsewhere, as the occasion arises. For all of us it provides a great stimulus to the imagination, as we try to position ourselves within an ancient house, or village, or society.

Alan Mason, August 2011.

REFERENCES TO ILLUSTRATIONS

1. The Neolithic Village of Skara Brae, Orkney Islands, Scotland (google images)

A. KHIROKITIA

2. Neolithic Sites on the Island of Cyprus (modified and coloured from A. Le Brun, translated by Robert Morris “Khirokitia A Guide to the Neolithic Sites”)

(3) Khirokitia, Cyprus, general view of village. (google images)

(4) Khirokitia, Cyprus, showing the closely clustered stone circles of the huts. (google images)

5. Contour Map of the Khirokitia Site showing Excavation Areas. (modified Le Brun, op. cit.)

6. A reconstruction of the interior of a beehive cell, Khirokitia, Cyprus, (google images)

7. Architectural drawing of the foundations of three cells. (modified Le Brun, op. cit.)

8.Andesite stone bowl. (“All About Cyprus” A. Ghinis 1987)

9. Stone Idol from Khirokitia. (Ghinis op. cit.)

10. Burial at Khirokitia, with stone bowls as grave goods. (Le Brun, op. cit.)

B. LEMBA

11. Plan of Lemba Village and Reconstructions. (inform. board)

12. General View of Lemba Site, (Author’s photograph)

13. Roundhouse with single central roof-post. (Author’s photograph)

14. Roundhouse with several roof-posts. (Author’s photograph)

15. Detail of Roofing Material. (Author’s photograph)

16. Terra Rossa Wall Plaster Decoration. (Author’s photograph)

17. External Plastering and Terra Rossa Decoration of Roundhouse. (Author’s photograph)

18. Doorway of Roundhouse. (Author’s photograph)

C. GALMES

19. The Location of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes) on Menorca (Author – adapted from google map)

20. Stereo-diagram of Location of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes) (“Menorca” Juan Soto designs Postales Internacional, 1985

21. Aerial View of Torre d’en Galmes (Gaumes) Soto op. cit.)

22. Plan of the Galmes Site (information board – Joan Ford photograph)

23. The Three Talayots at Galmes as Reconstructed (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

24. A Talayot Showing Some of the Internal Structure. (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

25. Megalithic Construction of the Taula (Temple) Facade and Gateway. (George Ford photo.)

26. Great Megaliths Within the Interior of the Taula. (Joan Ford photo.)

27. The Circular House – a Reconstruction (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

28. The Circular House – an Aerial View (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

29. Stereo-diagram of the Covered Enclosure (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

30. Megalithic Structure of the Covered Enclosure. (Joan Ford photo.)

31. The Rainwater Collection System (info. board – Joan Ford photo.)

D. SKARA BRAE

1. The Neolithic Village of Skara Brae in the Orkney Islands (google images)

32. The Location of the Orkney Isles (Author’s map)

33. Three Neolithic Sites on the Orkneys (After “Faber Atlas” Sinclair & Stamp, 1961)

34. Interior of House 1, Skara Brae. (google images)

35. Skara Brae – Exterior of House, bedded in midden and sand.

36. Reconstruction of Skara Brae in Neolithic Times. (google images)

E. CHYSAUSTER

37 Cornish Neolithic Sites (English Heritage)

38. Nine Courtyard Houses in Chysauster. (English Heritage)

39. Rooms in a Typical Courtyard Houses in Chysauster. (English Heritage)

40. Aerial View of Village from Northwest. (English Heritage)

41. Walls of Chysauster (English Heritage)

42. A Reconstruction of Chysauster during the Neolithic Period. (google images)

F. CARN EUNY.

43. Plan of the Neolithic Houses at Carn Euny. (English Heritage)

44. Plan of House 1 at Carn Euny. (English Heritage)

45. Paved Entrance to House 1 with the Fougou on the right. (English Heritage)

46. View South-West along the Carn Euny Fougou. (English Heritage)

G. FOUGOUS OR SOUTERRAINS

(no illustrations)

H. HALLIGGYE FOUGOU

47. Ancient Sites in the Vicinity of the Halliggye Fougou (Ordnance Survey map)

48. Ground Plan of Halliggye Fougou (Author’s Map)

49. Entrance to the Fougou (Author’s photograph)

50. View towards Small Doorway (Author’s photograph)

51. Small Doorway to Inner Chamber and Curved Tunnel (Author’s photograph)

52. View back to Fougou Entry and Steps (Author’s photograph)

I. BARNS OF AIRLIE SOUTERRAIN

53. Location of Barns of Airlie Site in the Angus region of Scotland. (“Geographia” road atlas of Great Britain)

54. Angus Countryside in the Region of Airlie (Author’s photograph)

55. Route to the Airlie Souterrain (Author’s photograph)

56. Entrance to the Barns of Airlie Souterrain (Author’s photograph)

57. Interior of the Souterrain, Showing its Curved Structure (Author’s photograph)

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One Response to Neolithic Villages

  1. whatsaysyou says:

    Wow that is amazing.

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