Giant Halls Found at Neolithic Settlement Were the Largest Homes In Britain
An ancient settlement has been discovered in the sandy soil of Carnoustie in Angus, Scotland, and now has been found to include of two of the largest halls in the land for the time. People would have lived in the settlement similarly to the way we inhabit modern houses, but this site is special in that archaeologists have recently discovered it’s much, much older than previously thought.
Dating to around 4000 BC, at a time when traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering tribes in Scotland were settling into new agricultural lifestyles, new analysis of materials is showing specialists how foods were processed and eaten using a range of pottery. What is more, the archaeologists believe that the people kept animals inside the building making it a prototype for the classic Scottish ‘but and ben’ - a two-roomed cottage where the kitchen was the ‘but’ while the inner room was the ‘ben’.
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Derelict modern ‘but and ben’ house near Lochhill, Scotland. (Des Colhoun / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
The Ancient Settlement
Ronan Toolis is leading the excavation as commercial director of GUARD Archaeology and he told reporters at The Scotsman :
“The larger of the Neolithic halls at Carnoustie is the largest ever found in Scotland, and indeed the rest of Britain.”
While archaeologists know that both halls were lived in, Toolis said that the new radiocarbon dates demonstrate that “the smaller of the two halls was occupied for longer” which suggests it was more significant in some way, to the inhabitants.
Among the ancient artifacts discovered by archaeologists inside the two halls was a range of carefully crafted jewelery, including half of a broken wrist bangle. They also found “a spearhead decorated with gold” and a bronze sword with a wooden sheath which a report on Archaeology.co.uk states is “the best preserved late Bronze Age scabbard in Britain.”
Late Bronze Age sword excavated at Carnoustie site. ( GUARD Archaeology )
Part of the Bronze Age bangle found at Carnoustie. ( GUARD Archaeology )
Dating Britain’s Largest Ancient Home
In 2016 and 2017 archaeologists worked with over 100 individual radiocarbon dates taken from charcoal found at the site. The new dating information offers archaeologists a deeper understanding as to when different parts of the settlement were in use and they are hopeful that this new evidence “may shed important light upon one of the earliest farming communities in Scotland.”
According to The Scotsman article, Mr. Toolis said that the two large halls were built in the Neolithic period and were occupied concurrently during “the first half of the fourth millennium BC.” The larger hall was abandoned around 3500 BC and the smaller one was continually occupied until sometime around 3000 BC. They also confirmed that the two halls were situated “in a larger settlement area” and located within a village that was created around 1000 BC in the Late Bronze Age.
Interpreting The Discovery In Context
The region known today as ‘Angus’ has been occupied since at least the Neolithic period and the area is awash with Bronze Age archaeology. At the short-cist burials found near West Newbigging Bronze Age “pottery urns, a pair of silver discs, and a gold armlet” were recovered and evidence of Iron Age occupation was discovered in the souterrain nearby Warddykes cemetery and at sites at Carlungie and Ardestie.
Neolithic occupation in Angus first became evident to archaeologists when material was taken from postholes at an enclosure discovered at Douglasmuir, near Friockheim, about five miles north of Arbroath and dated to around 3500 BC. While the original function of this contemporary enclosure is unknown, in Jill Kendrick’s paper titled ‘Excavation of a Neolithic enclosure and an Iron Age settlement at Douglasmuir’, Angus, it is suggested that it was used for “agriculture or for ceremonial purposes” in which agri-rituals and fertility rites might have been conducted.
A line of large postholes belonging to the Neolithic house. ( GUARD Archaeology Ltd.)
The newly discovered pair of halls in Carnoustie will further illustrate the Neolithic history of the north east coast of Scotland; the movements, trading patterns, and religious practices of the ancient people that survived in these tough northern climates.
Top image: The remains of the largest Neolithic hall found in Britain, which was discovered in Carnoustie, Angus. Source: GUARD Archaeology .
By Ashley Cowie