Flourishing Farmers

Knap of Howar
The Early Neolithic farmstead at Knap of Howar, Papa Westray. Farming seems to have flourished in Orkney, perhaps against the odds. Photo: Guille Lopez

The development of farming in Neolithic Orkney is a fascinating topic that has inspired research over the last century. From the days of Gordon Childe, through the work of Colin Renfrew to the publications of Anna and Graham Ritchie and Continue reading Flourishing Farmers

New Publication

Just to flag up a new paper that I have been working on with colleagues which has recently been published. It is in an expensive volume (apologies), the first of three. It is a series which will be useful, so persuade your university to get the books for the library. I note that all are available as ebooks, though the price is the same! This work was undertaken while I held a personal fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust – my thanks must go to them for enabling the research!

Wickham-Jones, C. R., Bates, R., Dawson, S., Dawson, A. and Bates, M. 2018. The Changing Landscape of Prehistoric Orkney. In Persson, P., Reide, F., Skar, B., Breivik, H. M. and Jonsson, L. (eds.) The Ecology of Early Settlement in Northern Europe. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing, 393 – 414.

New Paper out

Stenness survey
Surveying on the Loch of Stenness – survey work can be fun!

Just to say that I am co-author of a new paper (click here), published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports. The journal have sent us the link which they keep open free for a short while for academic purposes as they say here:

‘Please use this link to download a personal copy of your article for your own archive. You are also welcome to email the link to your co-authors and colleagues, or post the link on your own homepage, Facebook, Google+, Twitter or other social media profile, to tell your network about your new publication.  Anyone who clicks on the link until July 12, 2016, will be taken to the final version of your article on ScienceDirect for free. No sign up or registration is needed – just click and read!

As an author, you may use your article for a wide range of scholarly, non-commercial purposes, and share and post your article online in a variety of ways. For more information, please see www.elsevier.com/copyright.’ (JASR email 23 May 2016)

We think that this is an interesting piece of work which highlights how you really need the whole landscape history if you are to understand a site (or sites) properly. We have also prepared a more narrative paper which is to be published in the Archaeological Review from Cambridge later this year (I’m just editing it up according to the referees comments which are very positive and helpful). Anyway, I will let you make your own judgement.

It is a good example of the way in which archaeology has changed since I studied at Edinburgh in the 1970s. It all seemed so simple then. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I’d be working with underwater landscapes and sediments.

Listening to the past

Bootleg Beatles
Sound is an essential element of the world in which we live. The sounds of our childhood are profoundly influential. The Bootleg Beatles at LunarFest 2015.

There is a real movement just now to make use of different ways in which to communicate archaeology and it is very exciting. This is not just through fiction writing, it encompasses a whole range of media including poetry (see the work of Laura Watts), art (eg: Aaron Watson) and sound (Ben Elliott and Jon Hughes).

One of the essential conundrums for those of us who work in the Mesolithic is that we are trying to communicate information about our Mesolithic forebears in a way which just did not exist in their world.  Even if they did have some form of written communication that we have yet to recognize, their world was largely an aural one.

After listening to Mark Edmonds talk about his work at Jodrell Bank the other day I was thinking just how much sound must have mattered to the Mesolithic community and wondering to what extent our sound-world differs from theirs. Obviously the content will be different. But what about the quality? How much were they aware of levels and tones that we no longer notice? It would be nice to think that we could start to consider this when trying to interpret sites. We tend to diminish the significance of the soundscape because our world has become so visual. But it was not so in the past. This is not a new idea. One project has been woven around the iconic site of Star Carr, where archaeologist Ben Elliott and sound artist Jon Hughes worked to explore the sounds of Mesolithic Britain.

It is important stuff because it helps to make our understanding of life in the past more complete.  We can never be sure precisely how people reacted to the aural world around them, but we can start to put together the suite of sounds that they would have encountered and by learning to investigate other senses beyond the visual we add depth to our explorations of the emotional reactions to the world in which people lived. These reactions went on to drive the physical world they created for themselves. And it is from this physical world that the remains of archaeology survive.

In this way we enrich our archaeological understanding. Phenomenology, while still mediated through the mind-set of the twenty-first century person, becomes truly multi-dimensional. Ironically, this step back towards the past has been made possible by modern developments in recording and listening technology as well as increasing awareness of the value of exploring a wider range of data.

And, of course, it is fun!