Sunday, 30 October 2016

Excavation of a Nazi Camp on British Soil –

Dr Gillian Carr

Report by
Tom Meharg

The UCD Archaeology society was delighted to host Dr Gillian Carr as our guest lecturer on the 20th October. Dr Carr is a Senior Lecturer and Academic Director in Archaeology at Cambridge University working primarily in the field of conflict archaeology. Dr Carr’s lecture focused on recent excavations of a Nazi Camp on the island of Jersey, one of the few places of German occupation on British soil. Through investigation of the Lager Wick camp and other remnants of the wartime past of Jersey aspects of the islands history and the narrative of occupation were scrutinised against the physical evidence. Insights to life of the inmates, guards, and islanders, who interacted with the camp through occupation and after the war, are made available in the archaeological record. Dr Carr’s lecture presented the realities of the hidden history of Nazi occupied Jersey.

The lecture initially outlined the occupation from the Late June invasion of 1940 to the final withdrawal after D-Day and Operation Overlord and in 1944. Slave labour camps throughout the Channel Islands housed foreign labourers brought to the island to construct the Atlantic Sea Wall. Looking at the archaeology of the islands from a landscape perspective a huge industrial urban infrastructure is apparent. Quarries, stone crushing buildings, railways, and bunkers scar the land. Dr Carr drew a parallel between occupied Jersey and Norway, describing it as a ‘Landscape of Evil’ a land of occupation and forced labour.

The main focus of the lecture was ‘Lager Wick’ a slave labour camp on Jersey. Understanding this site required a multidisciplinary effort, a simple archaeological approach was not appropriate. The importance of eye witness accounts was incredibly valuable for testimony of the purpose of the camp and the experience of the labourers. Today the site is heavily overgrown and geophysical surveying is impossible. A great source of information were wartime aerial photographs, however problems of resolution, shadow, and the temporary, shifting nature of the camp buildings means these images were difficult to interpret. In addition to this the Germans had made a conscious effort to obscure the actual camp, for example, one of the yards was built in the shape of an ornamental garden to mislead wartime intelligence. With some areas of interest identified, Dr Carr was ready to excavate.

The lecture continued to present information gained through excavation. In the 2014 season posts, gates, and fences of the camp’s perimeters were uncovered. It looked as if a 7ft barbed wire fence surrounded Lager Wick during the war although an eye witness claimed a local farmer installed the excessive 7ft fence after the war.  It became apparent through excavation that many of the wooden buildings were on stilts and an attempt to raise the ground level with beach sand was also evident. Finds of iron nails and concrete also scattered the site.

In the 2015 and 2016 excavation seasons a building initially interpreted as a latrine block contained combs, medicine bottles and a tooth brush. It was suggested that this latrine was for higher officers due to a French hotel ashtray discovered in the trench. Upon revisiting the site in 2016 the story changed, finds suggested the latrine was probably a potato store instead, cashes of seashells pointed towards a period of starvation in camp. This highlights the difficulty of identifying a building through material culture.

Other areas excavated included the molten glass and charcoal remains of a barrack lodge identified through augering. Also found here were cufflinks, a schnapps glass, and a mug with the eagle and swastika motif, suggesting this was the overseers lodging. Other finds on the site associated with the camp included a padlock, a spade and a boot. However Dr Carr explained the difficulty of identifying some items as ‘camp material culture’ due to the fact that the area had been used as a communal dump in the post war era.

The greatest outcome of these excavations is a challenge to the silent history of occupation in Jersey and the Channel Islands. The victory narrative overrides an interest in the actuality of occupation life and many of the islanders are sceptical of the benefits of such activities. To open a dialogue and research slave labour camps and the wartime experience may help archaeologist identify other such sites in occupied Europe. Although the material culture at Lager Wick mainly represents the occupying force it is a side of history often supressed in the traditional narrative of these islands. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

The Irish Lithic Landscape Project: A raw material provenancing project integrating geochemical and petrographic analysis of material for prehistoric Ireland

A report by Mary Cain

On the 22nd of September, the UCD Archaeology Society welcomed its first guest speaker Dr. Killian Driscoll to present his current research he is conducting at UCD along with two of the college’s lecturers, Dr. Graeme Warren and Professor Gabriel Cooney. The aim of the research was to be able to analyse cretaceous flint from chalk deposits in Co. Antrim, and chert from Co. Sligo, taking geological samples from each site and analysing them alongside the archaeology from the area.

As Dr. Driscoll pointed out, throughout archaeology in Ireland and Northern Ireland, the attitude towards the use of flint and chert have had an influence in how the raw material contributes to our understanding of how past societies utilized their raw materials. The main attitude has been that flint is the prefered raw material while chert is of poorer quality. However, it is important to note that the main sources of flint on the island come from the North, specifically along the Antrim coast line, while chert is dominant across most of Ireland. 

Another reason in conducting this research has been to see how near or far chert and flint was procured as a raw material based on the archaeological evidence. It is important to see how material that is either procured locally or at a great distance makes its way into an archaeological excavation. To understand this, laboratory analysis was conducted on the chert and flint samples. The main methods of analysis were Macroscopic analysis, Geochemical analysis and Microscopic analysis.

In total, 400 hand samples were taken, with 170 from outcrop groups. The outcrops could range in type, some cliffs along the seaside or inland to small exposures easy to access. A series of analytical methods were carried out on each of the samples, ranging from non-destructive methods to destructive methods, such as petrography which requires thin sections of the sample to be examined. While the results are still being investigated, currently the LIR is currently being housed as a physical collection at University College Dublin with an online database for flake stone tool raw materials. The investigation is still ongoing and will continue through 2017.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


"Of Calendars and Kings: Gods, Temples and the Piciales and the Development of Archaii States in Hawaii"

Seminar by Professor Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester
Report By Claire Hyland
The lecture given by Professor Clive Ruggles from the University of Leicester was on the topics of astroarchaeology in the prehistoric societies of Hawaii and Polynesia, the evolution of the Hawaiian Archaii states and how the stars and the natural Hawaiian landscape have influenced the orientation of various temples throughout Hawaii and Polynesia. Professor Ruggles has spent the last ten years studying the ancient temples strewn throughout Hawaii and attempting to decipher their enigmatic relationship to the southern constellations. In addition to his main thesis on the Heiau (religious temples) of Hawaii, professor Ruggles explained the history and archaeology of the astronomy within the Hawaiian society and why the stars played such a prominent role within the beliefs of the Hawaiian people.

Professor Ruggles began his lecture by detailing the evolution of Polynesia as a society and culture. All the islands spoke different dialects of the same language and the Polynesians began inhabiting the peninsula around the 2nd millennium BC. From 1000 AD further colonisation and exploration occurred until the arrival of Captain Cook in the 1700s. The discovery of new islands by the ancient Polynesians may have been by fortuitous accident as they sailed the ocean in wooden canoes and navigated uncertain waters by the stars, waves and by keeping the shore within the line of sight. These voyages were replicated in 1967 with the maiden voyage of Hokule’a ship. The islands of Hawaii and Polynesia boasted as wildlife pigs, fowl and feral dogs and grew as their natural fauna breadfruit, taro, coconut and banana.

Next, Professor Ruggles discussed the five different islands of Hawaii (Kau’i, O’ahu, Moloka’i, Mani and Hawaii) and their initial discovery and settlement by the native Hawaiians. Around 1000AD, the islands are discovered and colonised. In 1200-1400AD, the fertile and accessible agricultural wetlands are cultivated and in 1400-1600AD the distant and less bountiful agricultural dry-lands are brought under human dominion as rising populations force more people to move to previously inhabited areas. At the 1600AD mark, the development of the Hawaiian kingdoms began in earnest. These were archaic and hereditary with no towns or urban bases (Crops in Hawaii could not be stored or preserved; lessoning the need for towns).

In the ethno-history and oral history of the Hawaiian kingdoms genealogy was of the utmost importance to the ruling classes. It heightened their status, showed them to be worthy kings and separated them from the common folk. Early Hawaiian Authors such as John Papa l’i and David Malo stress the massive significance and influence of genealogy within the Hawaiian elite class. The Kumulipo was a highly detailed and revered star chart describing the ancestry of the ancient Hawaiian kings, their importance to the universe and why they deserved to be rulers.

The astroarchaeology of Hawaii and Polynesia concerns the astronomy, navigation and the influence of stars upon the material culture of each respective society. In navigation, the positions of stars at night can help with traversing the wide open sea and in learning the locations of islands. The rising and setting of stars can be learned off in order to use them as a sort of star compass. The coming of the missionaries to Hawaii in the 18th and 19th centuries resulted in the planets and many stars receiving new names albeit in the Hawaiian language. Lubika is Jupitar, Wenuka is Venus, Hipa-kane is the constellation Aries and Kr’aha is Ursa Major. In the Na i Noa Hoka, a catalogue for Hawaii star names, it shows the original Hawaiian names for the stars along with the ones the missionaries bestowed upon them at a later date. There are two editions of this book; one printed in 1975 and 2015. It also gives a star/genealogy chart tracing which kings and other elite classes are descended from which stars. 

In astronomy, the heliacal rise sees the stars rising at dawn around May/June. At the Acronychal rise the stars, after the earth’s rotation away from the sun, start to rise at sunset in November and in Hawaii these are noted for marking the New Year. In Hawaii, the Makaliki festival is held to celebrate the New Year and the god of agriculture, Lono. On the Island of Tongo, there is a coral tritithon called Ha’amonga a Maui which was built around 1200AD and has a solar alignment. After reading ‘Stonehenge Decoded’ and realising that he had a similar monument within his kingdom, the King of Tonga started a ritual ceremony at the monument in 1967. Also on the island are several solar calendar markers; most are located on the east side and are natural places for observation. The lava columns at Kumukahi are known as the “sun pillars”.

In Hawaii itself the landscape is dotted with the ruins of temples and ancient shrines. The orientations for these structures are in a variety of directions and seem to correlate with whatever god is being worshipped. Ancient Hawaiian temples are called Heiau and are often made from stone, have a square shape along with an inside altar and contain varied offerings such as coral or beach worn pebbles. The ideal heiau has opposing female/male sides orientated along a south/north basis. Many of the Hawaiian heiau are located in Kahikinui Kaupo; overgrown agricultural dry lands divided into ten land sections (ahupaa’a) and have been surveyed by UC Berkeley. There are over 60 recorded and preserved heiau and the majority date to circa 1600AD. These temples usually have the altar opposite the entrance and their orientation is influenced by whatever god is being worshipped. Kane, as the god of the (east) rising sun, has temples with an east orientation. Kanaloa, god of death and the sea, has temples facing towards the ocean. Ku, god of war and the north, has north facing temples while Lono, god of fertility and agriculture, has southerly temples.

On Hawaii, there is an archaeological monument in Kahiki Nu-e known as Panana which points to the south. It is a single wall with a notch in the centre. 20m long and 1m wide, the wall is unconnected to any other monument.  In Hawaiian, Pa means wall and nana means sight. Panana is also the modern Hawaiian word for compass. Is this a memorial wall? Was this a connection to the days of voyaging and navigating by the light of the stars? We know that this monument was built around 1200AD, the time when the big voyages came to an end. It most likely commemorates the end of an era in Hawaii and is a symbol of nostalgia for a more adventurous sea-faring age.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

"Living with Monuments: landscape inhabitation and monument creation in the Avebury landscape"

Seminar by Dr Joshua Pollard, University of Southampton

Report by Claire Hyland

The lecture given by Dr. Joshua Pollard was on the topic of how landscapes and monuments interacted and functioned within human settlements and the role they played in human society from the Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age in the Avebury landscape. The main area of interest in this lecture is the justly famous Avebury landscape which is famed for its plentiful and well-preserved monuments that range from the Mesolithic to the Early Bronze Age. Located in central southern England, Avebury has long been held as a sacred Neolithic site which periodically saw an influx of prehistoric migration to the area. Around the 3rd millennium BC the Neolithic inhabitants of Avebury put a massive amount of resources and labour into the time intensive construction of stone monuments. A site such as Avebury has rightly inspired heavy academic interest among archaeologists and other professions. 

During its early Neolithic phase, Avebury boasted stone tombs, long mounds and enclosures. All of these structures were built around 4th millennium BC and are considered to be sacred Neolithic monuments. In a few cases not all of these structures had a distinct and unquestionable funerary purpose in the Neolithic era. In the Later Neolithic period, around the 3rd millennium BC, large stone monuments were constructed on the Avebury valley floor which runs alongside the river Kenneth. These stone features were excavated in detail by Alistair Whittle in the 1990s. Huge numbers were required to build these monuments – labour, resources and land clearance – and it has been shown that the local environment itself could not hope to support such colossal projects on its own terms. Outside resources and individuals were needed to erect these monuments. 

Was Avebury a ritual site? How did the process of living in the landscape relate to its monumentalism? Avebury seems to portray the quintessential paradox of the Neolithic era in a manner par excellence. The solid, enduring structures of the Neolithic era are stone monuments to the dead while the houses and settlements are ephemeral and elusive; the architecture of the living is the hardest to trace and locate within Avebury. This eloquently illustrates the depth and devotion the people of the Neolithic harboured towards their dead ancestors and spirits. The ancestors required permanent and lasting stone tombs while those Neolithic people living in the present had to make do with perishable and short-lasting structures. 

The settlement and routine of Avebury has been analysed through surface scatter remains by numerous archaeologists. Dennis & Whittle, in 1993, excavated the southern slopes of Windmill Hill while searching for such archaeological debris. By uncovering the scatter remains of Avebury, it has been hoped that this will invest the site with new interpretations of its history and the ritual meaning behind its monumentalism. Significant landscape modification has been uncovered in Avebury with large stones being ritualistically moved to different locations, utilised as landscape markers or sanctified as key elements of landscape veneration. 

In Neolithic times, Avebury was subject to consistent and reoccurring migrations or habitations of human activity. Through the archaeological evidence, it has become clear that people periodically and purposefully returned to the same sites in Avebury throughout the centuries and generations. Were these merely sites of expendable and useful natural resources or were these sites of religious or ritual importance to a Neolithic audience? In contrast to the sites of immense natural or religious value, within Avebury itself, there are patches of land devoid of human activity. This begs the question why? Were they simply naturally barren, unproductive to live upon or considered to be cursed or forbidden by the Neolithic inhabitants in some manner? 

For the Neolithic people, monuments were of profound social and ritual purpose. They housed and protected the ancestors, served as sites of sacred worship and bought communities together in their procurement of resources and the need for labour. Monuments were constantly interacted with in the Neolithic from their construction to their veneration. But what was their overall impact on the scale and location of human settlement? Did they encourage or discourage settlement near their boundaries? 
The ‘rough leaze’ of Avebury predates the construction of the henge monument. The lithic scatter of the ‘rough leaze’ was created by natural means i.e. tree throws (when a tree and its roots are ripped out of the ground and wrench out natural materials from the soil). As tree throws create natural lithic scatter, these remains had been disregarded by archaeologists as not being man-made. Now it has been made abundantly clear that in the Neolithic such natural occurrences were heavily exploited as readymade forms of lithics and architecture. 

The West Kenneth Avenue was first excavated by Keller in 1934 during which its first level of occupation was uncovered; indeed the site itself was an undiscovered Neolithic settlement. Keller, while dreadful at publishing reports, excelled at writing detailed archival archaeological accounts of the excavations. Rich lithic assemblages alongside dense concentrations of flint and Neolithic ceramics were exposed within the trenches. The bulk of the Neolithic settlement predates the construction of the Avenue by several centuries and shows the site was first a settlement then an area of ritual importance to the Neolithic area. 

But was the West Kenneth Avenue a site of routine Neolithic habitation? Perhaps it would provide an opportunity to unearth rare middle Neolithic structures. During the 2013-15 excavations of the site it was discovered that the Neolithic remains consisted of pits and stake holes while in-situ scatter had been forced down through the soil by earthworm action. 20000 pieces of worked flint were uncovered (some densities were 80 per sq metre); dating to the Middle Neolithic 1200-900BC and not all originate from the Avebury area. Chisel arrowheads and discoidal scrapers were among the artefacts recovered. Exotic finds included a macehead fragment and Peterborough ware pottery (Mortlake & Fengate). This area was periodically visited by different groups as artefacts dating from the Mesolithic to the Later Neolithic have been uncovered through scatter and features. 

In Trench 4, large amounts of chisel arrowheads were uncovered. The primary use of many of these arrowheads was as weapons (albeit not hugely effective ones; experiments suggest that they merely caused non-fatal cuts at distances exceeding 15 metres) and with some arrowheads having a secondary use as knives. These arrowheads were not useful for hunting and may have been utilised as weapons for interpersonal human conflict. Excavated alongside the arrowheads were Neolithic pits – small distinct features which were immediately filled with debris. Neolithic features often, perhaps deliberately cut through Mesolithic pits. These pits were reengaged within the Neolithic period. Clearly the Neolithic inhabitants were long aware of the site being previously used by a former era or people and wished to develop the site with their own needs in mind. 

In trench 4, an Early Bronze Age feature was uncovered that cut through a threefold pit. This feature was a singular, isolated occurrence within the trench. It was 1.4 m deep and 60-70cm wide. A theory suggests that the pit was dug in order to commemorate a fallen tree of special significance in the Neolithic. Trees in an open field were unusual; perhaps the inhabitants did not want to forget the tree that once stood in the field and wished to ‘resurrect’ it in a manner of speaking. Trench 4 also contains the avenue bank, an artificial mound of turf and top-soil that may have stretched to the West Kenneth Bank. 

In the end, the relationship between landscape and monuments is a fascinating and engaging topic especially during the prehistoric era. This is a subject that requires more archaeological and topographical research in order to better understand prehistoric society and how they interacted with the landscape the way they did. Landscape and monuments were inextricably entwined in the prehistoric era and further research is required to better comprehend how the two complemented and interacted with each other. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

“Dealing with Difference: Investigating Social Diversity in the Central European Neolithic”

Seminar by Dr Penny Bickle, University of York 

Report by Emily Mooney

Last Thursday evening, the Archaeology Society was delighted to welcome Dr. Penny Bickle from the University of York, who gave a lecture entitled “Dealing with Difference: Investigating Social Diversity in the Central European Neolithic”. The lecture commenced with Dr. Bickle mentioning two of the projects that she has been involved in, and stating how there has been a relative tendency towards hesitation when it comes to discussing social differences during the Neolithic.

She then moved her talk onto the discussion of the archaeology of the Central European Neolithic, with a focus on the Linear Band Keramic (LBK) culture. Most of the evidence for Central European Neolithic comes from the settlement of the LBK, which consisted of villages containing longhouses, with clusters of settlements alongside river valleys.

Dr. Bickle proceeded to then discuss the pottery evidence for the LBK and what it says about regional diversity and hierarchy within the culture, with prestige objects dominating. She used the very effective analogy of football teams when explaining pottery diversity within different LBK groups - everyone was playing by the same rules, but for different teams, but there is also the possibility that they could have even been playing different ball games altogether.

She then discussed the details of her first project, “The First Farmers in Central Europe: Diversity in LBK lifeways” (2013), which utilised the study of isotopes to determine diet, which revealed that hunter-gatherers and farmers had a widespread similarity in diet, and that the evidence exhibited the sharing of food between settlements, but the project was not able to determine any changes over time.
The second project, “The Time of their Lives: Precise chronologies for the European Neolithic” (, currently ongoing and led by Dr Alasdair Whittle and Alex Bayliss, uses Baysian modelling techniques to address what the previous project could not, examining change over time across different cultural groups, but due to a limited stratigraphy resorted to the examination of the different ceramic phases of the LBK across Europe.

The results of both projects concluded that there were changes in social relations of Neolithic Europe between 5160 – 5115 BC, with periods of increased and stable settlements and then a collapse, the reason for which is unclear, with the society focusing on the contemporary social groups as opposed to previous generations being the focal point.

To conclude, Dr. Bickle’s work has shown that social relations and kinship played a central role in the LBK way of life, alongside a system of shared values, and those communities on the edges of the society exhibiting more variation. Overall it was a very engaging talk that was enjoyed by all who attended, and we look forward to hearing of Dr. Bickle’s fantastic work in the future.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

"Discovering the Northern Picts: Survey and Excavation in Northern Scotland"

Seminar by Dr Gordon Noble, University of Aberdeen

Report by Laura Cawley

This seminar focused on fortifying rulership in Northern Britain, in relation to the Picts. The period in question was the transition of the Iron Age to the Early Medieval period. This seminar was informed by Dr. Gordon Noble’s research in the Northern Picts Project. The focus of this project is Eastern and Northern Scotland and the Picts people, with a particular focus on Early Medieval Scotland (circa 400-900 AD).
At this time in Scotland there was a great diversity of people. The Picts were distinguished by their carved stones and metalwork. Areas researched as part of the project include forts, burial practices, environment, and symbol stones, as well as possible domestic settlements. Cé is one of the areas included in the project.

The origins of the Picts have been a source of confusion for historians and archaeologists in the past. At this time the origins of new forms of social hierarchy and authority were widespread. As a result of this complexity, the project uses interdisciplinary means to aid in its research, and material culture is utilised to define new relations of power.
The anthropogenic and archaeological signatures of kingship have left their mark on Scotland. Increased ritual power and the sacred role of the leader were shown through the power they exerted on nature. This led to sacred and exclusive objects and distinctive burials and monuments.
Irish written evidence has been used to enhance the project. These documents provide evidence of kings as leaders in war, justice and religion. They were involved in clientship which was materialised through military service, hospitality and annual labour, for example constructing ramparts. Kingship was also seen as part of the world order, and making things run as they should.
The historical sources used in this project include Ptolemy’s Geography, which uses 1st century AD information, and mentions many tribes. The Picts are mentioned from the 3rd century AD as a source of trouble for the Romans. This sudden mention of the Picts could be as a result of the consolidation of tribes to counteract the threat of the Romans. The mention of fewer tribes in later Roman sources could support this theory. Other sources include the kinglists of the 8th century AD, which note Pictish over-kingship by the 7th century AD. Later sources emphasise royal centres in the South.
The archaeological record is now being used to trace the origins and development of the Picts. This record includes symbol stones, fortified sites, and cemeteries. The writing system identified on the symbol stones is believed to mark out powerful individuals. Metalworking symbols on the stones are seen to be symbols of power. The Late Bronze Age and Iron Age hillforts which reemerge in the Post-Roman period were central to the kingship of these powerful individuals, according to the sources.

The origin of these symbol stones is generally taken to be the Late Roman period- 8th/9th centuries AD, but there is no real consensus. They originate in Northern Pictland. These stones have been dated relative to Christian monuments.
The symbol stones and fortified sites form the main sources for the project. One of the sites studied is Dunnicaer, which is a fortified site with carved stone monuments. Its promontory fort dates to the Pictish period. One of the structures there, Beannachar House, has Pictish stones in its association. These stones were found in 1832 by village youths but not studied until much later. The dates of the site are early- 3rd/4th century AD. Roman sources say that the Picts were sea raiders, which may mean that this site’s coastal location was a natural choice.
Rhynie is another fortified site studied for the project. The name means a place associated with a great king. It was a high status fortified site dating to the 5th/6th century AD, and was contemporary with the stones found there. This famous group of Pictish stones are more polished and elaborate than those found at Dunnicaer. They are an earlier type, as there is no Christian symbolism on them as on other stones. Symbols on these stones include fish, the Pictish beast, and the famous Rhynie Man. This was an important find as human representation in Pictish stones is rare. One of these stones was also left in its original location, which is rare with such stones. This provides a rare study opportunity. Ditches and a palisade were found nearby.
Imports were found at the site, including a Late Roman amphora from the Mediterranean and dating to the 6th century AD. These are rare in this area; they are found in South-West England at high status sites. Only two other sites in Scotland boast such a find, and both have royal associations. Glass from Western France which formed a beaker for wine was also found, and this is also a rare find in Eastern Scotland. High status metalworks such as bronze pins, brooch moulds, and exceptional iron tongs, which are also represented on the stones, were also found at the site.
The site has been dated from 450-550 AD, and is seen as a landscape of power. This was an Iron Age fort which was reused in the Early Medieval period. A high status cemetery and square barrows dating from 450-550 AD were also found. A stone socket for a standing stone was discovered at the entranceway of the fort, near Rhynie Man, with a deliberate deposit of a cattle jaw bone placed at the bottom.

This is a secular site but there are cult and ceremonial associations. Axe carrier symbols were found which have animal heads and elaborate teeth, similar to Rhynie Man, and could be interpreted as shamanic figures. There were similar axes to those represented found at the burial of Sutton Hoo, and Lagore crannóg in Meath. These were royal sites which also had animal remains, which were sacrificial at the burial and mostly cattle in huge quantities at Lagore. This shows how kings may have been implicated in the religious practices of their people.
Burghead was also studied, and is the largest Pictish fort. It is a promontory fort with monumental walls and depictions of bulls which may relate to animal sacrifice. Early Christian sculpture has been found, as the site was used to almost 1000 AD, when Christianity was spreading. Little excavation has been done, and the site was damaged with the building of a town on top of it. Test excavation revealed intact Early Medieval deposits and a cattle bone midden. Radiocarbon dates of the rampart place it in the 5th/6th century AD, the post hole to the 6th century AD, and the midden to the 9th/10th century AD.

Almost all of the forts studied date to the 5th century AD, showing them to be Post-Roman phenomena. Some sites, such as Rhynie, became disused during the 6th century, while the larger forts, such as Burghead, continued to be used for longer periods. This may mirror the rise of the overking in the sources; less centres of power as power becomes more centralised to certain areas.
In conclusion, warfare was materialised through enclosures which were important to the Northern identity in the 3rd/4th century, but this may have been geographically restricted. There may also have been use of sacred and restricted script to denote emerging elites in the same period. Bands of clientship allowed forts to be built in the late Roman and Iron Age periods, but these were consolidated from the 5th century AD and in a Post-Roman context. In the 5th/6th century an element of the divine and sacred was introduced in relation to rulership.

If you would like more information on this project, it can be found through the Tarbat Discovery Centre’s website, and the Northern Picts Facebook group.

Monday, 8 February 2016


"Violence Among Hunter-Gatherers"

Seminar by Dr Rick Schulting, University of Oxford
Report by Nicola Riordan
Dr Rick Schulting from the University of Oxford came over on the 4th of February to give us a very interesting seminar. The seminar began with telling us that there is a debate among archaeologists as to the origin of warfare. Were hunter-gatherers engaged with warfare? Is there any evidence of even earlier warfare? When we think about hunter-gatherers, we generally think of much simpler, egalitarian, peaceful groups of people who shared the land as a community. There is evidence of high homicide rates among hunter-gatherers all over the world, but this does not represent warfare, or at least, nothing we can identify as ‘warfare’, in which we envision warriors with armour.

However, looking at hunter-gatherers from a different perspective, we can look at the northeast coast of North America, where there were chiefs in charge of groups, slaves who were either captured and brought to the group to serve or born as a slave from other slaves. An example of this was a painting from 1847 of the Songhees war party returning home, holding severed heads as trophies. Several books have been written about violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers, not exactly questioning it, but more compiling information on the evidence for murder, massacres and warfare among these groups. These books include ‘Violence and Warfare Among Hunter-Gatherers’ by Allen, M and Jones T, as well as ‘Warless Societies and the Origin of War’ by Kelly, R. A quote from literature which stands out is ‘thank prehistoric conflict for collaboration, intelligence in humans’. It is a quote like this which makes us realise that once individual groups begin to define themselves and gain a unique identity and understanding of who they are, is when the prospect of warfare begins. Within primitive warfare, size matters – a bigger group of people seem a lot more intimidating than a smaller group. According to a paper published in Science in 2009 by Bowles, S, 14% of adult deaths among hunter-gatherer groups in archaeological and ethnological regions were due to warfare in areas such as Europe, Asia and North America.

However, at one site mentioned; Téviec, it is unclear if the violence recorded was due to 3warfare or homicide within the group. At this time in this location, there were no chiefdoms or states, so if someone wronged you, you would have been free to kill them. Also, in this paper there was a lot of data missing, there are at least 30 other sites in Europe which show no signs of warfare, so it seems as though the information was chosen to back up warfare, while all of the evidence showing a lack of warfare was simply ignored. In sites such as Gøngehusvej 7 in Denmark, where a woman with a depression in her skull which showed signs of healing was found, there were no examples of unhealed cranium injuries. Another site in Tilbury, Essex from 6065-5910 BC there were many examples of healed injuries, but no evidence from either site for massacres or battle or warfare.

This brought us on to the concept that within hunter-gatherer societies, it is much more likely that there was ritualised conflict not meant to be lethal, such as stick fights which the elders would organise to diffuse conflict between groups in the younger generations. This is backed up by the lack of evidence for perimortem damages within these groups. A few weeks ago, the cover of Nature featured a ‘massacre’ at Lake Turkana. This ‘massacre’ featured individuals with healed injuries, some individuals with their hand bound suggesting some sort of execution, and some perimortem injuries including one individual with an obsidian blade still lodged in the skull. There were 20 individuals spread out over 300 meters, and have a large date range of 10500-9000 BC, suggesting that this was not a massacre, but drawn out over a longer time period.

Two sites which Dr Schulting has worked on are Ofnet in Bavaria and Cis-Baikall in Siberia. In Ofnet, two skull nests were excavated by Schmidt in 1909, and when radiocarbon dating came into use, they were dated to the 7th millennium BC, making them Mesolithic, which had previously been debated. There were 28 skulls in the large nest and 6 in the small nest, with a range from infants to adults and males to females. There were a lot of cranium injuries present with about 75% of them having severe cranium injuries. There are two theories that are debated with this site – is this evidence of a massacre or were the skulls placed here over time? The radiocarbon dates received from the nests allow both theories to be possible – they could have all been deposited at the same time or over a timeframe of 600 years. Some skulls show signs of overkill, and have injuries to the back of the head in an execution style. All of the skulls still have their mandibles, and the first 3, 4, 5 vertebrae have cut marks; evidence that the heads were cut off before decomposition occurred.

A few of the skulls in the nests have been dated to about 6400 BC, with only one outlier in the large nest. The dates in the large nest suggest that it was either a single event or took place over 200 years. Also, the two nests appear to be of different ages. At least 30 more skulls have been dated, and this should get the date range down to about 30 years, though with the conditions of the skulls and the different ages of the two nests, the best date range scientifically achievable at the moment is more like 90 years, which is still definitely shorter than previously thought. Are these nests evidence of warfare among hunter-gatherers? In a more primitive society, if someone did you wrong you would kill the person you are angry at. However, once you start to target that person’s group and not them specifically for revenge, that is a feud or warfare between two groups of people. The killing of children shows this – it is unlikely that a young child killed someone or were the subject of sexual jealousy, so the fact that there are children’s skulls in the nest suggests that they were not targeted because they had done wrong, but because they were associated with the person who did, though this is very debatable. There are a couple of other sites where something similar has been observed like in Ofnet. In Mannlefelsa, there is a male skull with similar perimortem injuries, with cut marks present also. In Hohlenstein-Stadel there were three individuals found; a man, woman and child, all killed. The child’s skull showed it would have been about 6 years old, but it was larger than it should have been for a 6 year old, suggesting hydrocephaly. This condition would have affected the behaviour of the child, and once genetic testing has been done on these three skulls, it could be possible that the child was killed because of this condition, and its mother and father were also killed by association.

Cis-Baikal is another site which Dr Schulting has worked on. There are about 1000 well preserved hunter-gatherers around the lake here from the early Neolithic to Bronze Age. There is no evidence of farming in this region even in the Bronze Age, and it is thought that the Bronze objects were brought here through trade or other means rather than being produced and manufactured in the area, though this is not clear. One unusual aspect of this site is that the mortuary complex for the middle Neolithic is missing. This is a complete mystery, as there is some evidence of settlement for this time period nearby, but no burial evidence until the late Neolithic. One cemetery called Shamanka II around Lake Baikal contains both single and multiple burials, with microliths as grave offerings, and some skulls showing perimortem damages. Thanks to a large amount of funding, every individual around the lake has been dated. So how did the Bronze Age hunter-gatherers know to bury their dead at this site? Too much time had gone by for oral folk tradition to have provided the information, so either coastal erosion around the site had exposed some Neolithic graves, or just decided that because of the striking view it was a good place for burials.

There are two clusters of these burials – north and south. The south cluster contains four young adult males, while the north is much more varied with males, females and children. The south cluster all show signs of perimortem injuries, with projectile points or outlines of projectile points found with the skeletons. One of the skeletons in the north clusters is a young adult and contains 22+ arrowheads in the grave. These are unlikely to be grave goods as they are all pointing in different directions, so it is more likely to be evidence of overkill. One skull shows two sharp force traumas to the mandible, though no axes have been found in the area, so perhaps the perpetrators came from the outside and massacred these people in an act of war. These two clusters may have slightly different dates, with a range of 100-200 years – so perhaps this is evidence of two separate massacres? Statistically they could both be from the same group, though the fresh water reservoir effect must be taken into account, as these people would have eaten the fish from the lake which may skew the dates slightly. For a hunter-gatherer society, the amount of deaths present here are extremely high, and the closest ‘normal’ Bronze Age cemetery is about 100 km away, with no big Bronze Age settlement found nearby.

The resources at the lake may have been enough motive for the massacre(s) at Cis-Baikal, but what was the motive for the massacre(s) at Ofnet? The nests in Ofnet were in a forest, where the resources would have been the same and enough for kilometres around. This means that the massacres may have been more complex than simply killing for resources, it may have been different generations getting revenge, or jealousies which spiralled out of control, or even a matter of prestige between different groups; the bigger a group the more powerful.