Wetland Settlement: Understanding the motivation behind living out on the water

Posted on November 26, 2015


Here is another videoed session from EAA. This one deals with some really interesting wetland archaeology. If you are reading this via email alert or rss you might have to click the urls or visit this page. More videos at http://www.youtube.com/c/RecordingArchaeologyVideos

Dr.Anne Crone, AOC Archaeology Group. Prof.Aidan O’Sullivan, University College Dublin School of Archaeology.
Dr.Graeme Cavers, AOC Archaeology Group. Prof.Francesco Menotti, School of Archaeological Sciences, University of Bradford
In studying the crannogs of Scotland and Ireland and indeed lake and wetland settlements in general the first question that usually comes to mind is why people would choose to live in such challenging environments. The recent discovery of the first loch-village in Scotland has forced us to consider that Iron Age communities in particular either sought out or were forced to settle in a range of equally difficult environments, in the damp fenland margins of lochs as well as on man-made constructions in the loch shallows.Functional explanations are often proffered, such as defence, to free up land on the shore for cultivation, access to transport routes or to different biotopes for exploitation. Others have suggested more intangible reasons, that wetlands offer unowned space in which a community or group could construct and/or negotiate new social identities, or that they were liminal spaces where rituals of transition were enacted, the settlements possibly belonging to the mediators of these rituals. Whatever the reasons were the frequent evidence of extensive rebuilding and repair in the face of subsidence and flooding suggests this was not an inconsequential locational decision.In this session we want to explore the evidence from wetland settlements across Europe to come closer to understanding the motivation behind choosing to live in these particular environments. The wider social and physical landscape of the settlements must be considered, as well as the excavated assemblages. This may enable us to identify constraints on choice of living space, and whether it was only ‘special’ groups within the community who went to live out on the water.

Crannog construction in early Iron Age Scotland: exploring duration and motivation

Graeme Cavers
The last decade has seen dramatic advances in our understanding of the origins and development of the lake settlement tradition in Scotland. The concerted efforts of the SWAP programme in south west Scotland have meant that for the first time, secure dating can be associated with structural and material cultural evidence from Iron Age crannogs and other wetland settlements. Coupled with the landscape approach taken to the study of Iron Age settlement at Cults Loch, a much more refined view of the role of crannogs is emerging, in which the occupation of wetland locations appears fleetingly but repeatedly in the context of a landscape organised around highly stable ‘nodal’ settlements. While the form of domestic architecture was
very consistent, the ‘mentality’ of settlement location varied dramatically.
Taking this evidence in the light of the most recent analyses of early Iron Age settlement in Scotland more widely, there is justification for viewing the fifth/fourth centuries BC as a period of considerable instability, when settlements were embellished, fortified and placed in new locations in the landscape. This paper will explore these themes in the light of the SWAP programme research in SW Scotland, and consider the implications for our understanding of the motivations for crannog construction.

Pushing Boundaries: Crannogs outside of the island-dwelling heartland

Michael Stratigos
Research on Scottish crannogs has focused on several discreet regions where the phenomenon is considered most central to the settlement patterns of those areas. This has meant that examples of crannogs outside of these regions have seen very little modern investigation. Reasons for why focus has been placed on particular loci of the crannog phenomenon will be discussed, and interpretational issues stemming from the geographical focus of the current corpus of crannog literature will be reviewed. The paper will also outline a new programme of fieldwork that has been initiated by the author in an area that has seen no modern investigation. Results of this fieldwork (both terrestrial and submerged) will be presented, and the implications
of understanding the artificial island dwelling phenomenon in Scotland in light of this work will be put forward. Work on drainage patterns suggest that crannogs may have been more numerous in this region than previously recognized. It will be argued that interpretations of crannogs should consider that they represent a near ubiquitous form of settlement in the later prehistoric, early historic and medieval periods across Scotland. On this basis the case will be made for a future research strategy for Scottish crannogs that casts a far wider geographical net, and that until such a strategy adds significant amounts of further data, functional, chronological and morphological interpretations of the crannog phenomena will remain preliminary.

New investigations on Iron Age wetland settlements in the Northern Aquitaine (France)

Anne Colin1, Florence Verdin2, Séverine Lescure3, Gilles Arnaud-Fassetta4
The Northern Aquitaine has a great diversity of wetlands that have undergone profound changes since the Iron Age: river shores, marshes, lakes. It raises the question of the settlements nature and their adaptation to the environment. We have developed two diachronic and interdisciplinary programs, one on the banks of the Garonne, around Isle-Saint-Georges, the other on the coast of northern Médoc. The settlement of Isle-Saint-Georges is located in the floodplains of the lower Garonne River valley. The archaeological evidence shows that during Iron Age, its size has varied a lot. This may be correlated with regional historical dynamics ; therefore, the role of environmental contraints cannot be excluded, as its position makes it very vulnerable to flooding. On the Atlantic coast of Northern Médoc, many evidences of occupation have been identified thanks to coastal erosion, on the beach or under the current dunes. They are found in clay and peat paleosols showing former wetlands between estuary and coastline. The density of archaeological discoveries raises issues about the nature of these settlements and their relationship with their environment. The first results show that these societies were subject to environmental constraints they have adapted to, finding in these areas advantages in terms of resources and integration into the road network.

Head-hunting in the Marshes – an exploration of the interaction between environment, chronology and cultural influences at Glastonbury Lake Village, Somerset, UK

Richard Brunning
Glastonbury Lake Village was a substantial Iron Age settlement created in a freshwater marsh a short distance from the contemporary coast but over 1km from the nearest dryland. Its original excavation between 1898 and 1907 proved it to be the best preserved prehistoric settlement ever discovered in England. The finds from those excavations showed both the productive character of the occupation and the extensive connections with the surrounding dryland. More recent work has clarified the chronological development of the site, the changing nature of the local marsh it was built in, the diet enjoyed by the people represented by the human remains and the construction methodologies of the buildings. An overview of all this accumulated evidence allows us to explore the social detail of this unique settlement. It was created as a result of considerable effort, and sustained by continual rebuilding, in a location at an inconvenient distance from its supplies of food and raw materials and inhabited by people who chose not to eat the fish living on their doorstep. Functional interpretations struggle in the face of such evidence. Instead the answers behind the village must lie within the complex social interaction between different communities in the wider area. The inhabitants fulfilled their physical and spiritual needs with a mixture of peaceful acquisition and extreme violence. The unique setting and character of the site does not mean that it was isolated from its contemporary society. Instead it was the vibrant centre of an extensive communication network.

Rising damp; challenging perceptions of wetland settlement in SW Scotland

Anne Crone
The work of the Scottish Wetland Archaeology Programme is revealing great variation in the types of wetland site used during the Iron Age in SW Scotland. Black Loch of Myrton had been labelled a crannog since its discovery in the 19th century but excavations in 2013 have revealed that it was actually an Iron Age loch-village, the Scottish equivalent of the iconic Glastonbury Lake Village in Somerset. This discovery has prompted many questions, not least of which is whether any or many of the other sites identified as crannogs in the 19th century were also loch-villages. Are these Iron Age villages translated into a wetland setting, an interim stage between the roundhouse settlements of the terrestrial record and the man-made island
dwelling? As a hitherto undistinguished site-type is the loch-village indicative of social and/or economic differences amongst the populace or simply evidence of the diversity of the people/place relationship in the densely occupied territory? Were the occupants a separate social group with a distinct identity or are they part of a larger economic and social unit within which they have a distinct role which required them to live out on the peat? To address these questions the site will be presented within it physical context and that of its Iron Age landscape, and the evidence from Black Loch of Myrton will be interrogated for clues as to why its occupants built and lived on the peaty margins of a small loch.


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