Late Neolithic

The only evidence for funerary practices during this period consists of cremated remains from three sites: a pit at Stoneyfield, Raigmore, Inverness (MHG54911; Simpson 1996a); a pit at Culduthel, Inverness (Phases 7 and 8; MHG51630; not definitely human, but probably is: Hatherley forthcoming); and a pit just outside a dismantled circle, originally of posts and then of stone orthostats, at Armadale Pier on Skye (MHG60879; Peteranna 2011b; Krus and Peteranna 2016, 696 and table 1). The finds from Raigmore and Culduthel were associated with sherds of Grooved Ware pottery.

At Raigmore, calcined human bone in Pit 20, in the vicinity of a timber house-like structure, produced a radiocarbon date, for Mike Copper’s Tracing the Lines Grooved Ware project, of 3090–2907 cal BC (SUERC-77846, 4371±33 BP: Copper et al 2018, 223). The cremated remains comprised small amounts of calcined bone fragments (totalling just 40 g) from three individuals – an adult, a child aged 10–12 and a child or infant less than 4 years (Wilkinson in Simpson 1996a). Sherds of three Grooved Ware pots were present in the pit; none of the pots was complete.  Seven other pits with Grooved Ware sherds at Raigmore also contained calcined human bone, mostly in similarly small amounts (Pits 21, 39, 41, 42, 45, 49 and 50: ibid), but in one of these (Pit 50), the human remains turned out to be intrusive, from a Late Bronze Age episode of burial (Copper et al 2018, 224). Without dating all the others, it is impossible to tell whether those remains date to the Late Neolithic or the Late Bronze Age – or indeed to the Early Bronze Age: also present in the vicinity was Pit 30, containing a child’s cremated remains buried in a Cordoned Urn. These remains have been radiocarbon dated to 3350±40 BP (GrA-24014, 1741–1518 cal BC: Sheridan 2003). The only deposits from the pits with Grooved Ware that contain enough bone to justify obtaining a radiocarbon date are those from Pits 39 (10 g) and 49 (42 g); the others contain 4 g or fewer, and since a radiocarbon sample has to be at least 1.3g, the sacrifice in those other cases would be too great.

The evidence from Pit 20 at Raigmore suggests that we are not dealing with the formal deposition of the cremated remains of entire bodies, but rather the deposition of ‘token’ amounts; even if all the calcined remains from Pits 21, 39, 41, 42, 45 and 49 are also Late Neolithic, these would not constitute a whole single individual’s amount of cremated bone. It is not known where the rest of the remains were placed, or whether the remains were of the inhabitants of the house-like structure.   

At Culduthel (phases 7–8), a fragment of unidentifiable calcined bone found associated with sherds from two Grooved Ware pots in a pit (pit [808]) has been dated to 2900–2680 cal BC (SUERC-20308, 4215±35 BP: Sheridan 2010b, Pots 40 and 41; Hatherley forthcoming). Even though it was not possible to determine whether the bone was human or animal, the fact that the pit was from a circle of pits containing charcoal and burnt stone, with further pits inside that circle (one with sherds from Pot 40) containing ‘abundant’ calcined bone, points towards this being a funerary deposition of human remains and not a set of pits for disposing of domestic waste (Hatherley forthcoming). It is impossible to tell whether the calcined bone from the pits inside the pit circle are from the same individual/s as the 50g of calcined bone from pit [808], but once again it appears likely that we are dealing with the distributed remains of the dead, and not with straightforward deposition of one or more person’s cremated remains in a single grave. The sherds from two pots found in pit [808] (Fig. 5.28) do not constitute complete pots; they were arranged on the base and around the side of the pit. Several pieces of flint, some burned and including two retouched pieces, – one a fragment of an arrowhead –  were also present in the pit.

The pit at Armadale (Feature 26) contained a deposit of cremated human remains that were found forming a shape resembling an upturned pot, although no pottery was present in the pit (Peteranna 2011b, 15). Three unburnt flint flakes were present at the bottom of the pit. A sample of the calcined bone produced a radiocarbon date of 4115±35 BP (SUERC-33909, 2880–2570 cal BC: Krus and Peteranna 2016 and Table 1). The pit lay immediately outside a ring ditch that had previously held a stone circle and, before that, a timber circle. There is a strong possibility that the pit with the Late Neolithic calcined bone was either contemporary with, or slightly post-dated, these circles.

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