3.3.2 South-east Scotland and north-east England

This area stretches from the Forth to the Tyne, extending westwards as far as the source of the Forth but not extending as far as Clydesdale. It encompasses the rich agricultural lowlands and stretches of upland including the Cheviot Hills, and the inclusion of a part of north-east England recognises the cultural continuity of the Neolithic across this modern political boundary.

As with eastern and central Scotland – a region with which it shares many features of the Neolithic in common – this region is rich in Neolithic remains, and much has been learnt thanks to developer-funded archaeology over the last 20 years. Of particular note are:

  1. The excavations carried out in association with the upgrade of the A1 in East Lothian (Lelong & MacGregor 2008) which, among other finds, uncovered two non-megalithic long barrows; and
  2. The major large-area excavations in advance of gravel quarrying at Cheviot Quarry and Lanton Quarry in the Milfield Basin, Northumberland which have significantly enhanced our understanding of Neolithic settlement (Johnson and Waddington 2009; Passmore and Waddington 2009; 2012; Waddington in press)

The latter complement the similarly large-scale (and ongoing) research excavations elsewhere in the Milfield Basin, led by Roger Miket (Miket et al. 2009). These, along with previous Neolithic finds (e.g. at Yeavering, on the edge of the Milfield Basin: Hope-Taylor 1977; Harding 1981) make this one of the most intensively-studied foci of Neolithic (and later) activity in Britain.

Notable reseach-based excavations in south-east Scotland include Stuart Piggott’s at Cairnpapple , West Lothian (Piggott 1948) – the results of which have been re-assessed by Barclay (1999a), Millican (2007), Sheridan (Sheridan et al. 2009, 214) and Bradley (pers. comm.) – and Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations at Doon Hill, East Lothian (Hope-Taylor 1980). Here, two timber ‘halls’ sharing virtually the same ‘footprint’ were found (Fig. 65); while Hall B is clearly of first millennium AD date, the presence of Early Neolithic pottery (of modified Carinated Bowl type) in association with Hall A, and the recent dating of encrusted organic residue on one such pot, confirming its early 4th millennium BC date, supports the argument that Hall A is indeed of Early Neolithic date. The post-excavation work currently underway includes dating structural material from Hall A, so confirmation (or otherwise) of its Early Neolithic date is expected within 2012.

A further, and very important, source of information about the Neolithic in this region is RCAHMS’ aerial photography survey, which has revealed the existence of three ditch-defined cursus monuments in Midlothian and East Lothian, and two pit-defined cursus in the Forth Valley (Brophy 1999). This complements the geoarchaeological survey work undertaken in north-east England – especially in the lower Tweed valley and in the south-east Cheviots – by RCAHME and others (e.g. Passmore and Waddington 2009; Topping 2008). Such work provides invaluable background information relevant to Neolithic landscape use.

Works of synthesis relevant to this region include Ian Kinnes’ publications on long mounds (Kinnes 1992a;b) and Miket and Edwards’ gazetteer of Neolithic pottery from north-east England (Miket et al. 2009). Passmore and Waddington’s two-volume publication (2009; 2012) on the archaeology of the Till-Tweed region offers a comprehensive review of the Neolithic (and other) evidence for this part of north-east England

The chronology for the Neolithic in the region is beginning to come into sharper focus with a good sequence of dates available for the early 4th millennium, although dates for the later parts of the period are still under-represented. Syntheses of most of the available dates for the region can be found in Lelong and MacGregor (2007) and Passmore and Waddington (2012).

The environmental evidence is currently rather limited but if future excavations employ comprehensive programmes of flotation on residues from hearth pits and midden pits in particular the amount of data should improve. There are virtually no faunal assemblages to speak of. The analysis of plant remains shows the importance of hazelnuts in the subsistence regime as well as the cultivation of emmer wheat, barley and oats. Pollen diagrams testify to small-scale clearance at this time with agriculture appearing to be focused around the settlement sites in fertile valleys and, no doubt, some coastal locales, on light easily-tilled soils safe from flood risk. There is activity in the uplands but the extent to which the uplands were used for small-scale cultivation, as may be the case on the base-rich soils on areas of the Cheviot plateau, remains to be established. Other areas of upland, such as the Lammermuirs and the Fellsandstone escarpments of Northumberland, show little evidence for clearance until after the Neolithic and are most likely to have been used for grazing and hunting. Dating of large-scale alluviation events that form valley floor fills provides a proxy for tree clearance in the uplands and destabilisaion of the soil cover, presumably by cultivation. Preliminary work in Northumberland suggests catchment-wide alluviation events such as this first took place in the Beaker period in the centuries before 2000 cal BC (Tipping 2002) – that is, well after the end of the Neolithic. Early Neolithic, to 3500 BC

The story here, as in east and central Scotland, is one of the appearance of the ‘Carinated Bowl Neolithic’ by 3800 BC and the subsequent flourishing of the farming communities who were thus established.

A range of settlement evidence is known, with the Doon Hill timber ‘hall’ – strikingly similar in plan to Balbridie (Brophy 2007) – constituting the largest structure. Its co-location with the 7th century AD hall is striking, and raises the question of how two structures separated by c 4500 years (if such be the case) could have come to be built in the same place; however, there is a parallel, at Lockerbie Academy, Dumfries & Galloway, where an Early Neolithic ‘hall’ was found less than 500 m from an Early Historic hall (Kirby 2011). A further plausible candidate, beside the River Tweed at Sprouston, Scottish Borders, was pointed out by Ian Smith (Smith 1991) but needs to be ground-tested through excavation. This example lies at the edge of a known Anglian settlement but differs from the Anglian houses in shape, instead being closely comparable with Balbridie and Doon Hill A. Like Balbridie and Crathes, it lies close to a sizeable river; it is also situated close to what may be a very rare example of a northern British causewayed enclosure (ibid., illus 4 and see below).

An illustration showing the ground plans of 3 rectangular structures approximately 20 metres by 12 metres with internal divisions

Comparative ground plans of known and putative Early Neolithic ‘halls’ at Doon Hill, East Lothian, Balbridie, Aberdeenshire and Sprouston, Scottish Borders. From Smith 1991

As for the smaller houses as discussed in section for eastern and central Scotland, the evidence is fairly sparse, largely owing to the amount of plough-truncation in these rich agricultural areas. Traces of slots for a rectangular timber house, 9.5 m x 4 m, were found at Ratho, Midlothian (Smith A N 1995; Barclay 2003) and at Thirlings in the Milfield Basin, Miket et al. (2009) argued that a trapezoidal post setting could have been the central supporting element within a larger walled structure some 9.5 m x 7 m in size.

An increasing amount of evidence has been coming to light to suggest that the range of Early Neolithic habitation structures included less substantial, flimsier constructions, perhaps designed for seasonal or other short-term use (e.g. during transhumance or hunting). In north-east England these include the site at Bolam Lake interpreted as a triangular-based structure and a similar site at Whitton Park (Waddington 2003), at least seven triangular and irregular structures at Lanton Quarry (Waddington in press ), and rectangular, circular and other irregular structures at Thirlings (Miket et al. 2009). In south-east Scotland, oval stake-built structures have been found at Chapelfield, Cowie, Stirling (Atkinson 2002) and at the Hirsel, Coldstream, during excavations of much later activities, Rosemary Cramp uncovered traces of at least one small, curvilinear, wattle-built structure associated with two Carinated Bowl pots (Cramp in press). Such sites remind us that the lifestyle of these early farming communities probably involved not only sedentary occupation (necessary for cereal cultivation) but also temporary occupation, by certain individuals or small groups. That said, it should not be assumed that all lightly-constructed buildings had necessarily been for temporary use.

A ground plan showing the remains of a rectangular structure and other pit features

Plan of rectangular Neolithic house at Ratho, City of Edinburgh. From Smith 199

An composite illustration showing ground plans of 6 small post built structures of various shapes showing the locations of posts, hearths and pits

Plans of lightly-built dwelling structures from Northumberland. Copyright: Archaeological Research Services Ltd

The commonest manifestation of early Neolithic occupation, however, comes in the form of pits, groups of pits and associated spreads containing sherds, occasional flint tools and debitage, coarse stone tools and stone axe heads, together with burnt material including charred emmer wheat, and some barley and oats and on occasions some small fragments of burnt bone. Typical midden pit clusters include the sites at Yeavering (Hope-Taylor 1977; Harding 1981), Bolam Lake (Waddington and Davies 2002); Coupland (Passmore and Waddington 2009), Thirlings (Miket et al. 2009), Cheviot Quarry (Johnson and Waddington 2009) and Lanton Quarry (Waddington in press), all in Northumberland; and Maybury Business Park, City of Edinburgh (Moloney & Lawson 2006).

The discovery of Carinated Bowl pottery and leaf-shaped flint arrowheads in the sandhills at Hedderwick, East Lothian (Callander 1929, 67) indicates that here, as in east Scotland, Early Neolithic activities included those relating to the coast. The nature of these activities needs to be clarified, however. And in north-east England, the discovery of flint tools eroding from peat shelves in inter-tidal settings such as the Neolithic forest beds at Druridge Bay, Northumberland, is a reminder that some evidence for Early Neolithic activity will have been drowned by sea level rise.

One specific type of evidence not hitherto noted in this review of regional developments in Neolithic Scotland is the existence of at least one shell midden that may have been in use during the Early Neolithic, at Inveravon, West Lothian, on the southern shore of the Forth (Sloan 1984; see Canmore, NS97NE 18 for a list of the radiocarbon dates from this site). Here, as with the other Forth Valley shell middens, the dominant shell is oyster. Two such shells have produced dates of 5435±60 BP and 5110±60 BP (GU-1886-7), calibrating – with a marine offset taken into account – to 3970-3660 and 3640-3360 cal BC respectively. These dates raise the question as to whether what is being dealt with is a very late survival of ‘Mesolithic’ communities, living entirely on wild resources, or localised, small scale use of marine resources by farmers in the area (see below, and, for further Neolithic dates from Forth Valley shell middens).

As for additional evidence for subsistence practices, lipid analysis of Carinated Bowl pottery from Cheviot Quarry (Stern 2009), Lanton Quarry, Doon Hill and the Hirsel (Cramp pers comm) have revealed evidence for ruminant dairy fat in some of the pots, suggesting the use of milk, as with Carinated Bowl pottery elsewhere. Plant macrofossils confirm that here, as elsewhere in the CB Neolithic, wheat (including emmer) and barley were grown and hazelnuts were gathered (Johnson & Cotton 2009).

The possible existence of a causewayed enclosure – a type of site extremely rare north of the Wash – at Sprouston (Figure c) has already been noted; others are suspected to exist at Hasting Hill, Tyne & Wear (Newman 1976) and at South Shields, Tyne and Wear, below the Roman fort of Arbeia, where ditch terminals were excavated (Hodgson et al. 2001). A further claimed example on Flodden Hill, overlooking the Milfield Basin, is considered to be unlikely given its position on a slope (Johnson and Waddington 2009, 246). Confirmation and dating of these sites would, however, require excavation.

The funerary practices of these early Neolithic farming communities match those already noted for eastern Scotland, with burnt ‘linear zone’ mortuary structures covered by long rectangular earthen mounds having been excavated at Eweford and Pencraig Hill, East Lothian (Lelong & MacGregor 2007). Eleven long mounds of earth or stone, rectangular or trapezoidal in shape, are listed in Kinnes 1992a for this region, including the long cairns at Bellshiel Law, Devil’s Lapful, Dod Hill and the Mutiny Stones(Masters 1984; 1973) and the chambered long cairn at Dour Hill, Northumberland (Waddington et al. 1998) – one of the few, or possibly even the only, megalithic tomb in the region.

An ground plan showing a section of a large sub circular feature 180 metres across with a post built rectangular timber hall and henge approximately to the east

Possible causewayed enclosure at Sprouston, Scottish Borders; the possible Early Neolithic ‘hall’ is also shown at the bottom of the illustration. From Smith, I 1991

The non-megalithic round mound at Broomridge, Northumberland (Greenwell and Rolleston 1877; Newbigin 1935), offers a close parallel for the monument at Boghead, Aberdeenshire, in having been the location of a cremation pyre, subsequently sealed by a mound; a large amount of Carinated Bowl pottery was found among the burnt remains, along with flint artefacts and a stone axehead. At least two other candidates for this kind of monument are known, at the Poind and his Man and at Shortflatt in north-east England (Davies 1995).

Some have interpreted the presence of burnt bone in two pits at Yeavering, associated with Carinated Bowl pottery, as evidence for individual interment in graves (Hope-Taylor 1977, 345, 354) but, as Miket et al. have pointed out (2009, 83-4), the bone has not been securely identified as human.

Three possible rectangular timber mortuary enclosures, analogous to the aforementioned examples in east and central Scotland, are known from north-east England from aerial photographs, at Ewart Park (Miket 1976), Milfield and Wark on Tweed (Johnson and Waddington 2009, 246; 2012).

As noted above, a few cursus monuments are known in south-east Scotland, including a fine ditch-defined example at Inveresk, to the east of Edinburgh.

An aerial photograph showing the cropmarks of two parallel lines in a landscape of agricultural fields, roads and settlement

Aerial photo of cursus at Inveresk, Midlothian. ©RCAHMS

The material culture associated with these early farming communities is strikingly similar (in its earliest manifestation) to that seen in eastern and central Scotland, with traditional Carinated Bowl pottery well represented (Sheridan 2007b; Miket et al. 2009; Waddington 2009). The evolution of ‘modified Carinated Bowl’ pottery through a process of style drift involved the kind of changes seen in Tayside and Fife, with a general coarsening of fabric and surface finish, less use of very thin, very fine pots, the use of heavier rims and more pronounced carinations/shoulders, the occasional use of lugs, and a drift away from the initial range of bowl and jar forms. The distinctive elements of the North-Eastern style of modificed CB pottery (e.g. the appearance of ‘proto-Unstan Bowl’ pots), seen further to the north, are not present – although there may have been an increase in the use of fingertip fluting as a decorative surface finish, as seen in the assemblage from Lanton Quarry.

A photograph of half a bowl reconstructed from sherds with a lipped rim and lug at the widest point on the body

Bowl of ‘modified Carinated Bowl’ type from Lanton Quarry, Northumberland. Photo: Clive Waddington

The use of lithic resources, the style of knapping and the range of artefact types matches that seen in other Scottish CB assemblages (and indeed in other CB assemblages further afield); the use of imported Arran pitchstone is attested at several sites, with examples beginning to be found in north-east England, in Coquetdale (2011) and at Lanton Quarry. A specific characteristic of the flaked lithic assemblages of north-east England (e.g. Cheviot Quarry: Johnson and Waddington 2009, 191) is that there is as yet no evidence for the use of locally available lithic raw materials. This is in direct contrast to Mesolithic practice which is characterised by the use of locally occurring beach flint, till flint, chert, agate and quartz. Instead much of the Neolithic flint is high quality nodular flint imported from the south (probably Yorkshire) or high quality glacial flint probably imported from the west coast.

A photograph showing a triangular marbled green axehead and a modern reproduction of a decorated leather carrying case

Jadeitite axehead from the Traquair Estates, Scottish Borders, along with its carrying case made c AD 1700. © NMS

Several axeheads of Alpine jadeitite (and other Alpine rock) have been found in this region, as elsewhere in the Scottish (and wider British) ‘CB Neolithic’. These include the superb examples from Cunzierton and Greenlawdean, Scottish Borders (of which the former are shown on the ‘cover’ page of this document), and from the Traquair Estates – the latter having been given its own carrying case by the Stuart family around 1700 (Figure f; Sheridan et al. 2011).

They also include a fine axehead of Alpine omphacitite, reportedly found in a blacksmith’s in Berwickshire. As noted above, these are most likely to have been brought among the possessions of the immigrant farming groups.

Other exotic axeheads, this time acquired through exchange across the rapidly-established interaction network, include numerous examples from Great Langdale in Cumbria – including a fine ‘Cumbrian club’ from Upper Hindhope in the Cheviot Hills. Such objects were probably not utilitarian axeheads, but symbols of power (whose production, during the first half of the fourth millennium (Davis & Edmonds 2011) may well have been inspired by the ideology of Alpine axehead use).

A photograph of a club shaped yellow coloured polished stone approximately 31cm in length 4cm wide at one end widening to 7cm at the other

‘Cumbrian club’ of Langdale tuff found at Upper Hindhope, Scottish Borders. ©NMS

There is a notable cluster of Great Langdale (‘Group VI’) axeheads around the Tyne; indeed, Cummins and Harding’s review of the stone axeheads of north-east England (1988) noted that over half of the 170 axeheads in this area are of Group VI rock. There are a small number of other ‘exotic’ axeheads, with three of Group 1 Cornish greenstone in north-east England; a small number of Group IX Antrim porcellanite axeheads (Figure 3.3.1.l) and of Group XXIV calc-silicate hornfels axeheads from Creag na Caillich near Killin (Figure i; Edmonds et al. 1992); and a re-used fragment of a Group VII axehead from Graig Lwyd in north-west Wales, found on Cairnpapple Hill and most probably associated with the few sherds of Carinated Bowl pottery found there (Piggott 1948). Finally, all-over-polished flint axeheads are represented, e.g. at Craigentinny, City of Edinburgh. The source of the flint is unknown but would certainly be outside the region. These axeheads are discussed further in Theme 5.

A simple outline map of Britain showing the distribution of axeheads with a concentration in the north east of Scotland and a scatter down the eastern side of England

Distribution of axeheads of calc-silicate hornfels from Creag na Caillich(starred), near Killin, Perth & Kinross. From Edmonds et al. 1992

As in eastern Scotland, early to middle Neolithic ‘monster beads’ are represented in this region, with a fine example in cannel coal or shale, emulating jet examples, having been found at Pencaitland, East Lothian. Middle Neolithic, 3500 – 3000 BC

Evidence for settlement takes the form of pits and spreads containing Impressed Ware, for example at Thirlings and Cheviot Quarry, Northumberland (Miket et al. 2009; Johnson and Waddington 2009) and Pencraig Wood, East Lothian (Lelong & MacGregor 2007). At Overhailes, East Lothian, one such pit is thought to have formed part of a lightly-built, sub-circular or horseshore-shaped building, surrounded by a yard (MacGregor & Stuart 2008). The individual pits and clusters of pits with Impressed Ware at Meldon Bridge, Scottish Borders were interpreted by Speak & Burgess as relating to ceremonial activity, on account of the fact that sherds of pots had been used to line the sides of two of the pits (Speak & Burgess 1999, 104-5), but an alternative interpretation as settlement-related pits is perfectly plausible. At Knowes Farm, East Lothian, Impressed Ware pottery was found associated with a rough line of 12 pits (Shearer & McLellan 2008) whose function is uncertain: these could have related either to domestic activities or to ‘special social gatherings’, according to the excavators.

Other evidence that may relate to domestic activity comes from ‘stray’, or otherwise ill-documented finds of Impressed Ware pottery (e.g. at Dalkeith, Midlothian: Henshall 1966 and Ford, Northumberland: Kinnes & Longworth 1985, 135 (Un 18:1-6); Miket et al. 2009, 84-5); as with Early Neolithic finds, Middle Neolithic activity of some kind is attested at the sandhills at Hedderwick, East Lothian (Callander 1929, 67-72 and Figs 51-2).

The shell middens of the Forth Valley have produced some dates suggesting Middle Neolithic exploitation of oysters (at Inveravon and Nether Kinneil, West Lothian: Sloan 1984 and see Canmore entries for date lists, with the calibrated versions taking into account a marine offset). Taking these and other dates at face value, this suggests a continuity of practice from preceding centuries, and the discovery of a handful of sherds of undecorated gritty Neolithic pot at Nether Kinneil (Cowie 1993, 38) provides evidence, however tenuous, that it is more likely to be a very rare instance of farming groups exploiting marine resources than of a very long-lived survival of Mesolithic groups that is being dealt with.

Other evidence relating to subsistence activities includes the absorbed lipids surviving in two analysed Impressed Ware pots from Cheviot Quarry, which attest to the former presence of an animal fat/plant mixture, with beeswax also present in one of these pots (Stern 2009); while the use of cereals is attested by the presence of a broken saddle quern in a pit with Impressed Ware sherds at Thirlings (Welfare 2009; see also Bishop et al. 2009 for the organic evidence for wheat, barley and oat cultivation). At Overhailes, small fragments of mostly unidentifiable mammal bone (but including one pig bone) were found, and the use of wild resources is well attested by the remains of hazelnut shells.

A ground plan showing excavated pits and cremation remains in an arc surrounding a stone setting with three sub-rectangular stones

Middle Neolithic ‘cemetery’ of cremated remains, plus probably contemporary stone setting, at Cairnpapple . West Lothian. From Barclay 1999

In terms of funerary practices, the only clear evidence for this period in this region comes from two sites: Cairnpapple , West Lothian (Piggott 1948) and Whitton Hill, Northumberland (Miket 1985). At Cairnpapple , twelve deposits of cremated human bone were found (Figure j), of which seven were found in and around a curving array of rock-cut pits that may or may not have held uprights; two settings of stones, forming what Piggott referred to as a ‘cove’, may also have been associated. (See Barclay 1999 for a critical review of these features.) A fragment of burnt bone or antler ‘skewer pin’ associated with one such deposit has recently been dated, as part of the NMS’ radiocarbon dating programme, to 4470±35 BP (SUERC-25561, 3350-3020 cal BC at 2σ; Sheridan et al. 2009. Note that efforts to locate the cremated human bone have been unsuccessful. By analogy with the dated henges of eastern and central Scotland, there is no reason to assume that the henge at Cairnpapple was in existence at this time; and see below,, for a discussion of the circular setting of 24 pits which surrounded this Middle Neolithic ‘cemetery’.

At Whitton Hill, two ‘cemeteries’ were found, one being surrounded by a segmented ditch and the other with a penannular ditch. Both contained similar deposits of cremated human bone to those found at Cairnpapple , with the deposits in Site 1 being arranged in a rough circle around a sizeable pit, and those in Site 2 being arranged in an arc around a further sizeable pit. The pottery associated with these sites can now be appreciated as being of Middle Neolithic date (as suggested by Miket); radiocarbon dating of the cremated bone would help to confirm the date.

Evidence for other Middle Neolithic ceremonial sites in south-east Scotland and north-east England is notable by its absence – unless the construction and use of the aforementioned cursus monuments extended beyond 3500 BC.

The material culture of the Middle Neolithic here is dominated by finds of Impressed Ware pottery, which shows affinities with contemporary assemblages further to the north (e.g. Meadowend Farm, Clackmannanshire) and to the south (among what used to be termed ‘Fengate Ware’). The northern English-southern Scottish specificities of the shallow, highly decorated truncoconic bowls that form part of this repertoire was highlighted by Colin Burgess, who proposed to name it the ‘Meldon Bridge style’ of ‘Peterborough Ware’ (Burgess 1976; See MacSween 2007 for a discussion). The number of findspots of Impressed Ware in south-east Scotland and north-east England is relatively small, but the recent finds from developer-funded excavations suggest that more of this pottery remains to be found.

In terms of lithics, strong links with Yorkshire are indicated in the use of imported Yorkshire flint to make items such as chisel arrowheads (of which a considerable number are known from Overhowden and Airhouse, Scottish Borders: Ballin 2009). These links are also echoed in the presence of three belt sliders in south-east Scotland: the example from Hallmyre, Scottish Borders (McInnes 1968, fig. 29.15), is of Whitby jet, while those from Balgone, East Lothian (ibid., 12) and ‘probably south-east Scotland, are of cannel coal or shale (as identified by Mary Davis: see Sheridan & Davis 2002 for details of the ongoing NMS project on the prehistoric use of jet and jet-like jewellery). As discussed in Theme 5, these objects probably date to 3200-2900 BC.

A single find of an artefact of Arran pitchstone at Meldon Bridge (Speak & Burgess 1999, 89) may attest to the continuing importation of this material to this region during the Middle Neolithic, although since it was note securely stratified, an earlier date for this find cannot be ruled out. Late Neolithic, 3000-2500 BC

Grooved Ware is known from a small but growing number of sites: Miket and Edwards (in Miket et al. 2009) list seven in their review of north-east English finds (although, as they note, the pottery from Milfield North pit alignment (Harding 1981) could be Early Bronze Age pottery), while Longworth & Cleal (1999) recorded two finds in south-east Scotland. (A third claimed find, from Cairnpapple , can be rejected). To these can be added the finds from Eweford East and Eweford West, East Lothian (Lelong & MacGregor 2008), found during the upgrading of the A1, and those from Lamb’s Nursery, Dalkeith, Midlothian (Cook 2000). At Thirlings and Cheviot Quarry, Northumberland, it seems to have been used in a domestic context, while at Eweford East it had been associated with a timber circle and two roughly parallel alignments of posts – that is, monuments associated with ceremonial activity. Grooved Ware was also associated with a pit alignment at Ewart 1, Northumberland (Miket et al. 2009, 88).

Illustration drawings showing two steep sided pots decorated with concentric grooves and lines of small diagonal indentations around the rim

Grooved Ware from Yeavering, Northumberland. From Hope-Taylor 1977

At Yeavering, one find of Grooved Ware pots (Figure k) may have been from a grave (although it is not stated whether the ‘cremated’ bone found in the pit in question had been human: Hope-Taylor 1977, 348-51, 354-5, figs. 121-2). As for the other finds (e.g. from the Hedderwick and Archerfield sandhills, East Lothian (Longworth & Cleal 1999), it is hard to determine whether they related to everyday or special activities.

Our knowledge of the settlement and subsistence activities during this period in this region is therefore limited; analysis of absorbed lipids in the Grooved Ware from Cheviot Quarry (Stern 2009) revealed the presence of degraded animal fat/oil. The continued use of the Forth Valley shell middens (Sloan 1984; Armit & Finlayson 1992) is suggested by dates from Nether Kinneil (see Canmore entry NS98SE 72); whether the Inveravon midden was also used at this time is unclear due to the large standard deviation of the dates in question.

Our knowledge of Late Neolithic funerary practices is similarly sparse, although Speak and Burgess had argued (2009, 26, 104) for the presence of Late Neolithic deposits of cremated bone at Meldon Bridge, Scottish Borders. The radiocarbon dating is however unsatisfactory, with oak-and-hazel charcoal from Meldon Bridge having produced a date (GU-1059) calibrating to c 2900-2100 cal BC (Speak & Burgess 1999, 103); once again, direct dating of the cremated bone is the only way to clarify matters. The uncertainty over the Yeavering bone has already been mentioned.

A ground plan of an oval timber or stone circle 30 metres across surrounded by a ditch and bank

Stone (or possibly timber) circle at Cairnpapple , plus henge that was probably added centuries later. After Barclay 1999

As regards ceremonial monuments, in addition to the the aforementioned timber circle and paired alignment at Eweford East, and the pit alignment at Ewart 1, there is a possibility that the stone (or timber) circle at Cairnpapple, represented by 24 pits, was constructed during the first half of the third millennium BC. This feature has been variously interpreted in the past, with Piggott (1948) having argued for it being a stone circle, while Mercer (1981) argued for it having been a timber circle, a view subsequently accepted by Barclay (1999a) and Millican (2007). Most recently, Richard Bradley has revisited and been impressed by Piggott’s suggestion that the large stones forming the kerb of the late third millennium BC cairn may have come from the putative stone circle (Bradley pers. comm.); these, plus some of the stones associated with the Beaker grave under that cairn, ‘add up’ in terms of the number of stones required for the circle. Irrespective of whether the circle had been of stone or timber, by analogy with other stone and timber circles in Scotland, a construction date within the first half of the third millennium seems eminently plausible.

It is also likely that the massive ‘palisade enclosure’, with its avenue-like entrance, at Meldon Bridge (Figure 18) was also constructed during this period, despite the absence of Grooved Ware from the site. This is based partly on the close formal parallel between this site and the timber enclosures at Forteviot and Dunragit, which have been dated to this period (Noble & Brophy 2011a). The dating at Meldon Bridge leaves much to be desired, with very few of the radiocarbon dates relating directly to the enclosure, with oak (or unidentified charcoal) having been used, and with the standard deviations having been enlarged on advice from Patrick Ashmore. As a result, the four relevant dates (GU-1048, HAR-796-7 and SRR-648) give a hopelessly wide spread, albeit one in which a construction date within the 3000-2500 BC period is indeed possible.

Whether any henges were constructed in south-east Scotland/north-east England during this period is not known, although the concentration of Late Neolithic lithic finds around Overhowden Class I (single-entrance) henge, Scottish Borders, might point towards this site as a possible candidate (Atkinson 1950; 2011). The presence of Grooved Ware sherds in the upper fill of the henge at Yeavering (Miket & Edwards 2009, 90) cannot be taken as a terminus ante quem for the henge’s construction as they were redeposited. And at Cairnpapple , the fact that the oval, Class II henge is not concentric with the (probably) stone circle is consistent with Barclay’s argument (1999) that the henge post-dates the circle, possibly by several centuries. All this should be viewed against the increasing amount of evidence to suggest that much henge construction occurred after 2500 BC (e.g. in the Milfield Basin: Harding 1981; Miket 1985; Passmore & Waddington 2012).

One kind of Late Neolithic site that is very well represented, particularly in north-east England, is outcrops bearing cup- and cup-and-ring ‘rock art’. The Fellsandstone area of Northumberland is host to one of the largest concentrations of prehistoric rock art in Britain and there are over a thousand sites now known (e.g. Beckensall 2001). Many sites are also known in southern Scotland (Morris 1981), although there has been a lack of fieldwork to search for these kinds of sites in the Lothians compared to other regions. It has recently been shown that excavation of these sites can provide dating evidence, as well as sequencing of the carvings (Waddington et al. 2005; cf. Edwards & Bradley 1999 on the Late Neolithic dating of rock art at Blackstone Beck on Ilkley Moor, Yorkshire), and excavation of such sites should form an important research priority.

As regards material culture, in addition to Grooved Ware pottery there is evidence for a significant importation of Yorkshire flint artefacts, with Torben Ballin’s recent analysis of the assemblages from Airhouse and Overhowden, Scottish Borders, underlining this fact (2011). The range of objects includes oblique arrowheads and edge-polished discoidal knives. This northern movement of material is complemented by the southern spread of carved stone balls and maceheads, the former probably from Aberdeenshire and the latter including at least some examples that may have been made in the Northern Isles, where maceheads are relatively abundant. Examples of both kinds of stone object are known from south-east Scotland and north-east England, albeit not in large numbers. A roughly spherical stone found at Cheviot Quarry has been published as a roughout for a six-knob carved stone ball (Johnson and Waddington 2009, illus 12 and 179, 182). This interpretation is not, however, universally accepted and another use as a hammerstone or ball-shaped grinder needs to be considered.

As in eastern and central Scotland, it appears that pitchstone was not being imported to this region at this time. Research questions regarding Neolithic south-east Scotland and north-east England

The principal research questions are as follows:

  1. Much more needs to be learnt about the nature, organisation and location of settlements, especially for the Middle and Late Neolithic. The Tweed Valley would make an excellent focus for targeted survey (including aerial reconnaissance) and excavation
  2. Are the putative ‘halls’ and causewayed enclosures that are known from aerial photographs really Early Neolithic sites?
  3. Knowledge of funerary practices for much of the Neolithic in this region is very patchy: what was their nature and how did they change over time?
  4. Very little is known about ceremonial monuments during the Middle Neolithic.
  5. Were any henges built prior to 2500 BC in this region? In particular, when was Overhowden built?
  6. Was the apparent use of shellfish in the Forth Valley a localised anomaly in terms of overall patterns of Neolithic susbsistence practices?
  7. How was agriculture and the use of domestic animals organised? Our knowledge of the latter is particularly poor.

And more specific questions include:

  1. Can the dating of the ‘palisade enclosure’ and ‘Neolithic’ cremated bone deposits at Meldon Bridge be improved?
  2. What is the relative dating of the circle and henge at Cairnpapple , and can the issue as to whether the ring was of stone or of timber be resolved? At present, the evidence seems to favour the ‘stone’ interpretation.
  3. More rock art sites need to be investigated to enhance dating evidence and help to understand how they were used – and how their use articulates with other Late Neolithic ritual practices.
  4. If possible, the calcined bone from Yeavering should be revisited to check whether it is human or not.
  5. The cremated bone from the two cemeteries at Whitton Hill needs to be radiocarbon dated.




A photograph of an axehead of Alpine omphacitite

Figure g: Axehead of Alpine omphacitite, said to have been found in a blacksmith’s shop in Berwickshire. ©NMS


Comments 3

  1. Doon Hill Halls
    There is now secure evidence that both Hall A and the succeeding building on site (Hall B) are attributable to the Early Neolithic, as is the enveloping palisade. hope-Taylor’s assertion that the foundations of the buildings produced iron nails, an iron knife and worn terra sigillata has not been confirmed by recent research. The apparently unencumbered space within the eastern half of Hall A is noteworthy, and is one of several characteristics which demonstrate that it is distinctive from Balbridie.

  2. 5. The cremated bone from Whitton Hill was radiocarbon dated to ~1700-1500 BC  https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/european-journal-of-archaeology/article/power-of-relics-the-curation-of-human-bone-in-british-bronze-age-burials/54F72F3A23123CE92393929753F6765D Reference

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