Ballin-Smith, B., Carter, S. P., Haigh, D. and Neil, N. R J., (1994). Howe: Four Millennia of Orkney Prehistory Excavations 1978-1982. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

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Howe: Four Millennia of Orkney Prehistory Excavations 1978-1982
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Society of Antiquaries of Scotland Monograph Series
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Beverley Ballin-Smith
Stephen P Carter
David Haigh
Nigel R J Neil
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Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
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10 Nov 2017
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1 - 9
This chapter discusses the recent history of the site, its natural setting, excavation methodology, a summary of the chronology of the site, report structure and terminology used.
1 - 305
The excavation at Howe, Stromness, Orkney, was one of the largest and most complex undertaken in Scotland at the time. It provided a hitherto unparalleled opportunity to excavate fully the remains of a broch settlement. The discovery of earlier Neolithic structures and enclosed Early Iron Age settlements added importance to the site. The earliest levels, a sequence of fragmentary structures, were dated by incorporation of material of Neolithic type and the nature of the structures, including a stalled tomb and a Maeshowe chambered tomb, comparable to others of the period on Orkney in the fourth and third millennia BC. Sherds of Beaker pottery suggest some activity probably around the turn of the second millennium, but no Bronze Age phase as such could be identified. Occupation resumed in the Early Iron Age (eighth---fourth centuries BC). The first of three major structural complexes, the roundhouse, has brackets of occupation somewhere between the fourth and third centuries. There was no direct radiocarbon dating evidence for the first broch, which overlay the roundhouse; extrapolation from the earliest dates for the second broch put its construction and occupation in the second and first centuries cal BC. This Middle Iron Age broch and settlement was the most massive and best preserved of the structural complexes, overlying and partly destroying the earlier evidence; first to fourth centuries cal AD cover a number of periods of collapse and rebuilding. The later Iron Age farmstead occupied a period from fourth to seventh or eighth centuries cal AD.
10 - 25
The earliest phase of Neolithic activity was represented by a pit/setting for a standing stone, a building described as a 'mortuary house' and the partial remains of a structure identified as a stalled tomb; the stone setting lay to the NE of and either predated, or was contemporary with, the mortuary house. This latter structure was remodelled to serve as a forecourt structure at the entrance to the stalled tomb. Both stalled tomb and forecourt structure were levelled prior to the subsequent construction, in Phase 2, of a chambered tomb of Maeshowe type. With the time and resources available, it was not possible to fully investigate all these features or to ascertain whether the standing stone was solitary or formed part of a stone circle. Little material culture and no human bone were recovered. From these levels to confirm the function of the structures. Two stone axes and other possible Neolithic stone types were found over the levelled remains of the Phase 1 forecourt structure. Pollen and plant analysis give some indication of the landscape into which these structures were set; it seems reasonably certain that, by the time the chambered tomb was built, woodland was largely cleared and some pastoral activity established in the area.
26 - 39
The earliest Iron Age phases on the site (Phases 3-6) follow a chronological break after the Neolithic (Phase 2), bridged only by the deposition of fragments of two Beaker vessels. Activities on the site over this period, from the 6th century BC to the start of the first century cal AD, cover the two main areas of the original tomb mound and the outlying ditch. Three main events took place in the area of the tomb mound: stone was robbed from the central cairn and entrance passage of the Phase 2 tomb; a roundhouse was constructed over the remains of this tomb and, finally, the collapse and demolition of the roundhouse was followed by the construction of a broch, Broch 1. Within the area of the Phase 2 tomb ditch, four main events could be recognised: an enclosure gully was dug into the upper fills of the ditch which were Iron Age in date; this gully was then replaced by another similar gully backed by a stone wall; partial replacement of the second gully and wall by a clay-cored rampart and rock-cut ditch was followed by numerous modifications to this rampart and ditch. Between these two main groups of contexts lay the scattered and fragmentary remains of successive contemporary settlements. Most of the Iron Age structures occurred to the S of the old tomb mound. There is no evidence for major breaks in the occupation sequence of the settlement between Phases 3-6 and it has therefore been assumed that these phases represent stages in the development of a single Iron Age settlement whose plan remained consistent through to Phase 7.
40 - 90
This period, Phase 7 of the site's occupation, was one of the best preserved on site representing a major percentage of the artefactual and environmental evidence from the site. At the start of this new phase, the previous plan of a defended settlement with broch tower was maintained, but the broch tower was cleared out to be rebuilt as a bigger structure and the Phase 6 buildings were levelled for the construction of a new village of six houses. The good preservation of environmental material provided information on the roofing and fuel used in the houses. Of the artefactual evidence from this period, the metalwork, both iron and copper-alloy, survived particularly well. Construction of the broch, together with the use and subsequent levelling of the new settlement, is described as the earlier Phase 7; Later Phase 7 covers the continued use of some of these structures, their replacement with new buildings and the last major collapse of the broch tower. The earlier and later phases were divided by apparently contemporary fires in broch and settlement. Chronological brackets of the 1st to 4th centuries cal AD have been ascribed to this phase from the radiocarbon determinations.
91 - 117
A large collapse of the broch walls, resulting in the abandonment of the tower, marks the division between Phases 7 and 8, sometime during the 4th century cal AD. The tower was used as a dump and subsequently an iron-working shed was built into the rubble of the broch collapse. The focus of the settlement shifted to the NE building which formed the nucleus of a domestic settlement with a cluster of yards, interpreted as the farmstead. The focus then switched to a new stalled building in the W of the site and in Later Phase 8 back to the modified E building. These continuous additions, modifications and periods rebuilding are covered by 12 stages, 1-4 in Early Phase 8 and 5-12 in Later Phase 8. The main environmental changes which distinguished Phase 8 was the decline in the use of wood as a fuel and the substitution of heathy turves. There is a diversification in arable agriculture with the presence of hulled six-row barley, the appearance of flax and possibly cultivated oats in the farmstead. There is also a marked decline in red deer with greater reliance on sheep in particular in this mixed farming economy. Working in iron continued in this phase, with a late surge before its general decline. Antler working was still practiced and composite hair combs, previously found on other sites in later Iron Age/early Norse levels, were produced. Copper alloy jewellery continued to be important, distinctive objects from the earlier stages representing a period of the mid-4th to 6th centuries AD and from the later stages material ranging from 2nd century BC to 7th-9th AD. A gaming board usually associated with Norse levels was also found. The occupation of the settlement could have ended during the 7th century AD, but may have continued on to as late as the 9th century.
118 - 120
This phase, 9, was used to include all undated and recent structures and covers the period from the abandonment of the site, that is from the 9th century or even earlier through to the 20th. Also included are an unphased burial, 19th and 20th century excavations and plough damage. A number of important artefacts were recovered from the topsoil or were unstratified within this Phase. These included a carnelian intaglio with an imperial eagle, dated to the mid 2nd century AD and three fine copper alloy objects, along zoomorphic pin of the 4th to 5th centuries AD, a decorated brooch, similar to the St Ninian's Isle types, given and mid 9th century, Pictish, attribution and a spiral ring of mid Bronze Age to c 5th century AD date.
121 - 142
This chapter presents the environmental data from the site in seven sections, beginning with an introduction and followed by the specialist reports on plant remains, animal bone, bird remains, fish, marine mollusc and non-marine mollusca. Analysis of the data has been made by phase, with limited data deriving from Phases 1-4, some useful information from Phases 5/6 but the major part of the evidence offering detailed discussion is limited to the middle and later Iron Age, Phases 7 and 8, perhaps covering a timespan from the 1st to the 8th century cal AD. This represents the first comprehensive collection of information on the Iron Age environment from an excavation in the Northern Isles. Analysis of the plan and animal remains has shown that the Phase 7 settlement practiced a mixed arable and pastoral agriculture, growing naked six-row barley and keeping cattle, sheep and some pigs. This was supported by the hunting of wild animals, birds and fish, and by the gathering of wild plants and marine shellfish. There is no reason to believe that this was simply a consumer settlement, as there was evidence for cereal crop processing, the primary butchering of animal carcasses, and animal dung. The farmstead of Phase 8 presents new additions to the crop range of the Phase 7 settlement such as flax and hulled six-row barley; in addition, there are further economic changes such as the appearance of rabbits, the increase in domestic animals at the same time as the decline in deer and the use of healthy turves for fuel compensating for the decline in the use of wood.
143 - 259
This chapter describes the wealth and nature of the material culture form the excavations. It is of necessity confined to the Iron Age phase: earlier chapters have indicated that the material culture of the preceding Neolithic and Bronze Age phases is limited to a very few stone and ceramic items. In addition to the buildings, the most durable evidence of habitation and life in the settlements was the range of artefacts. Those best preserved were of bone, stone, metal and ceramic. Although the organic material of skins, hides, wool, leather and other vegetable matter did not survive, tools found amongst the bone and inorganic artefacts indicate their presence during the Iron Age. Over 18,300 artefacts were recorded, and this number excludes the organic material. This is due to the exceptionally good preservation and the total excavation of occupation contexts such as floors and of the walls and rubble foundations on which structures were built. It must be borne in mind that some of the apparent differences may be a product of the proportionately greater clearance of existing settlements, especially severe at the beginning of Phase 7. Problems are also apparent when reviewing the archaeological material from the later phases. Repeated contemporary cleaning, demolition and clearing of buildings, and the reworking of rubble layers have left a disjointed and somewhat unsatisfactory artefact record. There are specialist reports on bone, stone, pumice, flint and chert, metal, slag, glass, pottery, fired clay and 19th-century artefacts.
260 - 263
The human bones were very fragmented and showed signs of considerable disturbance. Many individual bones were excavated from rubble contexts and wall fills and although these were, wherever possible, fitted on to an individual skeleton, in most cases this could not be done. Using the left femur as an indicator, a minimum of eight bodies were identified, mainly from the Iron Age phases. These were represented by five adults, one juvenile and two foetal or full-term skeletons. A single vertebra was found in the fill of a Neolithic ditch.
264 - 266
Overall, the 25 radiocarbon dates from the Iron Age phases at Howe produce a sequence that is consistent with the site stratigraphy that extends over at least 1,200 years from 500 cal AD to cal AD 700. However, none of the key constructional events are precisely dated due to a lack of both suitable contexts and samples. The interpreted chronology for the Iron Age phases may be summarised as follows: phase 3 of unknown duration, possibly includes 6th and 5th centuries cal BC; phase 4, 5th and 6th centuries cal BC; phase 5 probably 4th and 3rd centuries cal BC; phase 6 at least the 2nd and 1st centuries cal BC; phase 7, 1st to 4th centuries cal AD; phase 8, 4th to 7th centuries cal AD and possibly as late as the 9th century cal AD.
267 - 292
This chapter draws together all the evidence and the site is discussed under the following headings: the sequence of occupation, Neolithic building and rebuilding, the advent of the Bronze Age, Beaker traces and a Bronze Age hiatus, early Iron Age enclosure and building development, middle Iron Age broch tower and settlement, the post-broch late Iron Age, material culture and discernible changes, economic base, ritual and belief and the site in wider context. There is a growing list of Orcadian Neolithic sites which, after apparent long-term abandonment were restructured in the Iron Age.