2.3.1. The emergence of Grooved Ware pottery and associated developments, c 3200/3000–c 2500 BC

Principal developments

Emergence of Grooved Ware pottery tradition in Orkney, as a local innovation.

Extensive external contacts – presumably mostly elite-led – at various points between c 3200/3000 and c 2600 BC. These links were between Orkney and mainland Scotland, and between Orkney and Ireland (and possibly beyond) along the Atlantic façade, and between Orkney and southern England. These links are shown by the following:

a) The adoption, in Orkney, of the format of the Boyne Valley style of complex, cruciform passage tomb format (the ‘Maes Howe type’), with explicit interest in marking the midwinter solstice. Other clear evidence for links with Ireland at this time includes the sharing of macehead types and the adoption of spiral decoration (which also appears on carved stone balls – indicating contact with mainland Scotland at this time as well. Evidence suggesting even longer-distance contact is the appearance of the Orkney Vole – which may have come from France or Spain.

b) The spread southwards of the use of Grooved Ware pottery: may well be roughly contemporary with (a) and be associated with the spread of the use of timber and stone circles, and of henges (with the Stones of Stenness ditch and central feature being AMS-dated to c 3000-2900 cal BC). In particular, it is possible to trace a chain of timber circles and of stone circles featuring tall thin stones along the western seaboard in Scotland. These correspond to the spread of Grooved Ware, although it is relatively rare in the west of Scotland.

c) The existence of possible contacts between Orkney and Wessex around 2600 BC (presaging other such contacts later, around the 20th century BC, as shown for instance in the Knowes of Trotty jewellery). The new evidence from Durrington Walls suggests not just ceramic similarities, but also some parallels in house design.

d) The construction of large timber enclosures at Dunragit, Dumfries and Galloway (associated with Grooved Ware) and at Forteviot near Dunning, which appear to show continuity with Meldon Bridge in the tradition of building such structures..

e) Construction of at least one timber avenue (at Eweford)

f) The re-use of pre-existing megalithic tombs: together with the deposition of Grooved Ware and other distinctive artefacts, e.g. oblique arrowheads of imported flint at Ormiegill; use of maceheads and carved stone balls.

g) The continuing links between S Scotland and N England (as shown in importation of Yorkshire flint).

h) The clear evidence of the use at least at this stage, of marine resources (in Orkney – from fish, shellfish and marine mammal remains).

Research questions

  1. What was happening in areas where Grooved Ware was not adopted? In particular, what kind of pottery and other material culture was in use? Was there a regional division between communities who embraced the ‘Grooved Ware package’ (if such a ‘package’ of beliefs and practices existed), and those who did not?
  2. Within Orkney, what were the social dynamics there between those who built Maes Howe type passage tombs, and those who did not? Were people still building megalithic tombs outside Orkney at this time?
  3. Were there links with southern England as early as c 3000 BC? (This feeds into broader issues about the dating of Grooved Ware pottery on a nationwide basis)
  4. What, if any, are the archaeoastronomical orientations and their significance at timber and stone circles of this period?
  5. What were the funerary practices of mainland Grooved Ware users (and of non-GW users)?
  6. What was the nature of settlement and economy in various under-studied parts of Scotland at this time?

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