2.2.2 The ‘Carinated Bowl’ (CB) Neolithic

More is known about this second strand of Neolithisation, which appears to have involved immigration by small farming groups from the far north of France (i.e. the Nord-Pas de Calais region) to large parts of Britain and Ireland between the 41st century and c 3800 BC. Within Scotland, this strand reached as far as Caithness in the north and Galloway in the south-west, but appears not to have extended as far as the Northern or Western Isles, or the north-west mainland (Figure a). It is particularly strongly represented in north-east Scotland and it appears to follow major rivers, especially the Dee, Forth, Clyde and Nith; indeed, it may have spread rapidly from eastern Scotland to the south-west along the Forth-Clyde corridor and down the Nith. The farmers appear to have sought out and found areas of high agricultural potential, and proceeded to clear the forest in order to establish their settlements and farmland. (See Section 4.4 on the palaeoenvironmental record.)

A simple outline map of Scotland showing the distribution of early Neolithic Carinated bowls with a concentration in the south of Scotland and along the east coast

Figure a: The ‘Carinated Bowl Neolithic’ in its early form, as manifested through pottery finds; information accurate to 2007. From Sheridan 2007b (where key to numbers can be found)

Recent Bayesian modelling of the available Scottish radiocarbon dates (Whittle et al. 2011, chapter 14) has claimed that it appeared in Scotland around 3800 BC, up to three centuries later than in Kent and the Thames Estuary, and as the result of secondary spread from south-east England. Whether that had indeed been the case is a moot point; both the use of Bayesian modelling (with its requirement to define an end-date to the phenomenon being modelled) and the assumption of chain-colonisation can be challenged and will continue to be debated. Be that as it may, it is clear that this strand of the Scottish Neolithic was indeed present in the parts of Scotland mentioned above by 3800 BC., appearing as a diaspora. Its key characteristics are as follows:

Economy (and see Section 4.1):

There is good evidence for mixed agricultural and pastoral farming. It is known that bread wheat (and other varieties of wheat), barley and linseed were cultivated, and other domesticated plants may have been cultivated as well (Bishop et al. 2009). Palaeoenvironmental evidence at Crathes Warren Field, Aberdeenshire (Tipping et al. 2009), suggests that cereals were cultivated in one or more field in the vicinity of a large house. Faunal remains (and indeed coprolites) show that domesticated cattle, sheep, goats and pigs were kept, and analysis of absorbed lipids in pottery has shown that dairying was part of this introduced subsistence practice, since milk fat has been found in ‘traditional Carinated Bowl’ pottery (Šoberl and Evershed 2009). There is also evidence for the exploitation of wild resources, both plants (Bishop et al2009) and animals. Hunting is demonstrated, for example, by the Rotten Bottom imported yew flatbow which, as argued in Section 5.3.2, is most likely to have been the possession of a farmer out on a deer hunt in the hills above Moffat. However, there is no evidence for the use of marine resources: Richards and Schulting’s isotope analyses of early Neolithic human remains from coastal areas (Richards and Schulting 2006) has shown no trace of a marine element in the diet. Even though the first farmers had arrived by sea, they had no tradition of eating fish or sea mammals.

Domestic structures (see section 4.3)

A composite image showing ground plans of a rectangular timber post built structure and stone built huts, and a photograph showing an excavated post built structure

Figure b: Selection of ground plans of ‘CB Neolithic’ dwelling structures: (left) ‘Hall’, Crathes Warren Field, Aberdeenshire (from Murray et al. 2009); (right top) Smaller house, Garthdee Road, Aberdeenshire (from Murray and Murray 2005); (right bottom) ‘Huts’, at Auchategan, Glendaruel, Argyll and Bute (from Marshall 1978)

These are mostly (but not exclusively) rectilinear and mostly plank, post-and-plank or post-built. There is a wide variety of sizes and durabilities, ranging from large houses – the so-called ‘halls’, which are mostly found in East Scotland but are also represented at Lockerbie in the south west, and which are limited to the beginning of the Neolithic – through smaller structures (e.g. the oval house at Garthdee Road, Aberdeen) and some flimsier, hut-like structures (including Auchategan on the slopes of Glendaruel, Argyll and Bute: Marshall 1978). This diversity reflects both the process of becoming established as farming communities and the nature of subsistence activities. The fact that the large houses (‘halls’) belong only to the first few generations of the CB Neolithic suggests that these were the initial, communal living places of the first few generations of settlers, who lived together until they were sufficiently well-established to ‘bud off’ into individual family farmsteads. And the existence of the small, hut-like structures – analogous to the flimsy structures seen in north-east England (see 3.3.2) – suggest that transhumance was practised as part of the overall subsistence strategy, at least in some parts of Scotland. Thus, the settlement pattern appears to show a basic pattern of year-round, house-based occupation with some seasonal settlement by a section of the community.

Funerary practices (and see Theme 6) :

A composite image showing the ground plans of four Neolithic funerary monuments of different shape and size

Figure c: Examples of ‘CB Neolithic’ funerary monuments: 1. Pitnacree, Perth and Kinross (from Kinnes 1992b); 2. Pyre covered by round mound, Boghead, Fochabers, Moray (from Burl 1984). 3. Mortuary enclosure, Inchtuthill, Perth and Kinross (from Barclay and Maxwell 1991); 4. Eweford West, East Lothian (from Lelong and MacGregor 2009)

These feature the use of non-megalithic funerary monuments, followed by a translation of some of these into stone versions in parts of Scotland (as at Mid Gleniron and Cairnholy, for example). The non-megalithic monuments comprise:

  • ‘linear zone’ timber mortuary structures, which were usually burnt down and eventually covered by long (rectangular or trapezoidal) or round mounds of earth and/or stone;
  • rectangular, post-built enclosures which are assumed to have been areas for the temporary or permanent laying-out of the dead (and see 3.3.1 regarding their dating); and
  • cremation pyres, covered by round mounds (as at Boghead, Moray: Burl 1984, and see Sheridan 2010b  for a review of Neolithic round mound dating).

There is evidence, from Raschoille Cave and Carding Mill Bay Cave, Argyll and Bute, for the use of caves for the deposition of human remains during the first half of the fourth millennium (Milner and Craig 2009, tables 15.3, 15.4). This is consistent with practice attested in Ireland where, for example, skeletal remains were found at Kilgreany Cave, Co. Waterford, associated with CB pottery (Dowd 2008).

A reconstruction drawing of a raised timber built platform surrounded with stones

Figure d: Reconstruction of how a linear stone monument structure might have looked in use. From Barclay 1998

Material culture (and see Theme 5):

The Carinated Bowl pottery tradition, which gives its name to this strand of the Neolithic, originated as one of several regional groups of the Chasséo-Michelsberg ceramic tradition in northern France. It features carinated and S-profiled bowls, uncarinated bowls and cups, and necked jars, mostly of fine fabric and including some very thin-walled vessels (c 4 mm); decoration is absent, save for the occasional use of fingertip fluting. A process of ‘style drift’ from the initial, ‘traditional CB’ style began in north-east Scotland within a few generations of the initial appearance of the CB Neolithic.

Illustration drawings showing the profiles of 31 Carinated bowls reconstructed from sherds

Figure e: Carinated Bowl pottery: 1. Carinated and S-profile bowls; 2. Uncarinated bowls and cups; 3. Necked jars. From Sheridan 2007.

The associated lithics comprise:

  • ground (and sometimes polished) stone axeheads, including fine, non-utilitarian axeheads of Alpine jadeitite, eclogite and omphacitite which had been brought over from France as old, treasured heirlooms of individuals or communities;
  • leaf-shaped arrowheads, mostly of flint;
  • plano-convex flint knives with extensive retouch
  • flakes and blades of flint and other stone including pitchstone
  • end and side scrapers of flint and other stone

and it is very likely that coarse stone tools, including saddle querns, would also have been part of the earliest CB Neolithic repertoire. Early Neolithic organic finds are extremely rare, but the yew flatbow from Rotten Bottom – which had probably been imported from Cumbria or Ireland, most probably Cumbria – has already been mentioned.

Resource use and interaction networks:

The CB Neolithic lithics show that the early farming communities were not only making opportunistic use of locally-available resources but – as had been the case in the Middle Neolithic of northern France – were also targeting specific sources of good quality or ‘special’ stone from c 3800 BC and were circulating items (and, in some cases, roughouts) made of these stone types over considerable distances. The stone types in question included Arran pitchstone (Fig. c), tuff from Great Langdale in Cumbria (anf cf. the yew for the Rotten Bottom bow) and porcellanite from Tievebulliagh and Rathlin Island in Co. Antrim. (The Creag na Caillich source of calc-silicate hornfels does not seem to have been exploited until later during the 4th millennium: Edmonds et al. 1991.) The creation of networks over which objects, resources, ideas and people travelled is a characteristic of the early CB farming communities (and of their French forbears), and indicates that the immigrant communities would have sought each other out. The benefits of operating interaction networks would have included the maintenance of a viable pool of non-related partners – although whether this was a conscious choice, and/or articulated in terms of viable breeding populations, is a moot point.

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As for other evidence that may potentially relate to the CB Neolithic, it has been claimed that a causewayed enclosure may exist at Sprouston, Roxburghshire (Scottish Borders), but this needs to be tested through excavation.

As with the Atlantic, Breton Neolithic, the reasons for the appearance of the CB Neolithic lie in the socio-economic dynamics of Middle Neolithic northern France. In this case, demographic pressure seems to be the root cause: an infilling of the Paris Basin, after a millennium of agricultural activity, seems to have resulted in an eastward and northward (and possibly westward) movement of people out of the Paris Basin during the late 5th millennium), with these diasporic groups evolving a suite of regionally-specific pottery traditions – of which the regional variant that gave rise to CB pottery is one (Vanmontfort 2001; Crombé and Vanmontfort 2007).

The question of the relationship of these putative north French incomers to the indigenous Mesolithic communities is a problem since, despite claims to the contrary (e.g. Thomas 2007), it is near-impossible to identify any sites or assemblages that demonstrate a process of acculturation. Nevertheless, given the apparent disappearance of the Mesolithic way of life from Scotland around the beginning of the 4th millennium, some process of acculturation must have taken place. It is not necessary to posit, as Thomas does, a ‘population wipeout’ as a consequence of the arrival of immigrant farmers; but exactly what happened remains a mystery. The paucity of Mesolithic human remains hinders attempts to identify introduced diseases, for example.

The main outstanding research questions relating to the CB strand of Neolithisation are as follows:

  1. Can the area of origin for the CB Neolithic be pinpointed more specifically? And can the forerunner of every aspect of the CB Neolithic be identified there? This requires further fieldwork and survey in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, and adjacent areas.
  2. The nature of, and any regional variability in, subsistence strategy, land use and settlement structure need to be clarified further. More and larger faunal assemblages need to be found as the existing dataset is relatively small.
  3. What was the nature of the relationship with pre-existing Mesolithic communities? How did the process of acculturation operate – and is there any evidence for the adoption of traditions associated with the Scottish Mesolithic by farming groups? (On present evidence, the answer to the last question is ‘No’.) For how long after the appearance of the CB Neolithic did the Mesolithic way of life continue? Did it disappear because the farming way of life was perceived as preferable?
  4. Is the Sprouston site a causewayed enclosure? And if so, does it date to the beginning of the Neolithic? (Cf. Whittle et al. 2011 on the dating of causewayed enclosures.)

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