Moving beyond the houses of theme 5 takes the discussion to settlements and settlement patterns. Settlements of different sizes (homesteads, hamlets, villages; Harding 2004) were occupied throughout the Iron Age in most parts of Scotland. Social distinctions between these are a matter of speculation (Harding 2004, 68) and are still far from being satisfactorily determined (ibid, 246). All of these settlements could be seen as steps on a continuum.
The record is mostly one of dispersed settlement, with hillforts variously interpreted, for instance as places of assembly for dispersed communities, or regional or wider-scale centres of organisation. The Early Iron Age is generally regarded, on the basis of fairly exiguous evidence, as less hierarchically organised than the Middle Iron Age or Late Iron Age, without demonstrated ‘central places’ and with social distinctions signified in domestic architecture and to a lesser extent by acts of enclosure (Ralston and Ashmore 2007, 230). There is often an implicit desire to find hierarchy between settlements, reflecting models of hierarchical ‘Celtic’ society , but a cold look at the evidence allows other models to be explored.
This section will start with issues of settlement form, layout and location. Settlement patterns are then considered, before an extended treatment on enclosed places, which has long been a dominant theme in Iron Age studies.