New Publication: Prehistoric Communities of the River Dee.

Mesolithic Deeside.
A classic evocation of Mesolithic Deeside at work and the sort of evidence they are finding, by Ali Cameron.

Mesolithic Deeside are a voluntary community archaeology group who walk the ploughed fields along the middle reaches of the River Dee around Banchory in order to record the prehistoric archaeology by collecting worked stone from the surface of the field. In the three years from 2017 – 2019 their work resulted in the recovery of over 11,000 lithics representing at least 15 archaeological sites dating from around 12,000 BC to c.2,000 BC. Their work is exciting because it is shedding light on a period of Scottish archaeology about which very little is yet known: the Late Upper Palaeolithic right at the end of the last Ice Age. It also provides an unparalleled glimpse of the extent of human activity along the river.

While others were perfecting their sourdough recipes, or embroidering replicas of the Bayeux Tapestry, I was working with the members of Mesolithic Deeside and various associated archaeologists to produce a publication of the first three years of work of the group. The final words might be mine – but the hard work was undertaken by many others. I had a wealth of reports and field notes, all supplied by the team, from which to hone our document. There were also extensive photographs, maps and drawings – all put together through the talent of others.

Did we succeed in producing an informative but readable account? Download it from the link here and judge for yourself. I think it is a fascinating story, but then I am biased.

The other thing to note here is all the help and expertise we have received from others. From the National Lottery Heritage Fund who provided the funding that got the group going, to Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service who were always there with support and advice, and Historic Environment Scotland who have supported the final publication, as well as many, many other funding bodies along the way. Then there was the fantastic team at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland who edited and published the final report as part of their wonderful Scottish Archaeological Internet Reports series (wonderful not just for the content but also because it is freely available – not a paywall in sight). And so many people along the way. Community archaeology is a brilliant evocation of the variety of skills that can be brought to bear on unravelling the past when people care.

I won’t say that there were not moments when I woke up in the middle of the night and despaired at the size of the task I had taken on. But for me the end result justifies those odd moments of reflection (and I do love writing).

The work of Mesolithic Deeside continues. No matter how much we know about the work of the past, there is always more to learn. If you want to join in, get in touch with them. It is fun – and healthy! And hopefully there will be more volumes like this one: the finds, and sites, since 2019 are already beginning to mount up!

The Landscape of the Ness of Brodgar

Landscape of Orkney
The landscape at the heart of Neolithic Orkney. This was a    dynamic place for those who chose to site their monuments here.

New Paper out on the development of the landscape around Ness of Brodgar.

Wickham-Jones, C.R., Bates, M., Bates, R., Dawson, S. and Kavanagh, E. 2016 People and Landscape at the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. Archaeological Review from Cambridge, 31 (2), 26-47.

Together with my colleagues, I’ve been working on a paper to discuss the results of our work on landscape change around the Ness of Brodgar, particularly relating to the Loch of Stenness. We published the tekky detail this time last year, and we were keen to explore what it might mean with relation to the Neolithic communities of the area and the siting of the monuments that make up the Heart of Neolithic Orkney. You really have to read the paper to get the full detail, but in essence our landscape reconstructions document the penetration of marine conditions into the dry land world of the Neolithic farmers at the heart of the islands. Given the emerging evidence for the ‘slighting of the sea’ in the Early Neolithic, it is fascinating that this fragile spot became so important to the island community.

It is possible to order a copy of the Landscape issue of Archaeological Review from Cambridge here. But I can let people have a pdf of our paper for individual research interests – just email me (my email address is on the home page).

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