Calling time on Oronsay: revising settlement models around the mesolithic–neolithic transition in Western Scotland, new evidence from Port Lobh, Colonsay

Finlay, N. , Cerón-Carrasco, R., Housley, R., Huggett, J. , Jardine, W. G., Ramsay, S., Smith, C., Wright, D. , Augley, J. and Wright, P. J. (2019) Calling time on Oronsay: revising settlement models around the mesolithic–neolithic transition in Western Scotland, new evidence from Port Lobh, Colonsay. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 85, pp. 83-114. (doi: 10.1017/ppr.2019.2)

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Abstract

For over 120 years, the shell middens of western Scotland and the series of open-air sites on Oronsay have been the focus of debate in European Mesolithic studies. This paper challenges the significance of Oronsay in light of results from the geophysical survey and test-excavation of a new limpet and periwinkle shell midden dated to the late 5th or start of the 4th millennium cal BC at Port Lobh, Colonsay that offers fresh evidence to re-evaluate critically the role of Oronsay and coastal resources in island settlement models ahead of the Mesolithic–Neolithic transition. Test excavations recovered a marine molluscan assemblage dominated by limpet and periwinkle shells together with crab, sea urchin, a fishbone assemblage composed mainly of Gadidae, some identifiable bird and mammal bone, carbonised macroplant remains, and pumice as well as a bipolar lithic assemblage and coarse stone implements. Novel seasonality studies of saithe otolith thin-sections suggest wintertime tidal fishing practices. At least two activity events may be discerned, dating from the late 5th millennium cal BC. The midden could represent a small number of rapidly deposited assemblages or maybe the result of stocastic events within a more extended timeframe. We argue that alternative research questions are needed to advance long-standing debates about seasonal inter island mobility versus island sedentism that look beyond Oronsay to better understand later Mesolithic occupation patterns and the formation and date of Oronsay middens. We propose alternative methodological strategies to aid identification of contemporaneous sites using geophysical techniques and lithic technological signatures.

Item Type:Articles
Additional Information:This paper is dedicated to the memory of W. Graham Jardine. Fieldwork was supported by small research grants from the British Academy (SG40312), and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland to NF. The support of Archaeology at the University of Glasgow is also gratefully acknowledged. Historic Scotland funded some of the radiocarbon dates. NF is very grateful to Alexander Howard, Lord Strathcona, Colonsay Estates; Seamus McNeill, and the Colonsay Golf Club for permission to excavate and for information about the site and to David Jardine for information from family archives. Thanks to the survey and excavation team of Natalie Bergman, John Malcolm, and Andrea Jackson, for their hard work and good company as well as the essential contributions of Paul and Rosie Duffy. Thanks also to Ernesto Piana who offered valuable discussion and advice; Morgana McCabe and Gavin Baker for their outstanding work on the post-excavation processing; Tessa Poller for stepping in to process the geophysical survey data and Anna Winton for further shell studies. The site illustrations and artefact drawings are the work of Gill Sneddon, Alice Watterson, Lorraine McEwan, and Nyree Finlay. The text has been improved by the perceptive comments of critical friends among them Paul Duffy and Michael Given, and the anonymous reviewers. The site archive is deposited with the National Record of The Historic Environment, Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh.
Keywords:Mesolithic–Neolithic transition, settlement history, geophysical survey, flint, midden, marine molluscs, saithe otoliths, Oronsay, Colonsay, radiocarbon dating
Status:Published
Refereed:Yes
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Huggett, Dr Jeremy and Wright, Dr Dene and Ramsay, Dr Susan and Finlay, Dr Nyree and Smith, Mrs Catherine
Authors: Finlay, N., Cerón-Carrasco, R., Housley, R., Huggett, J., Jardine, W. G., Ramsay, S., Smith, C., Wright, D., Augley, J., and Wright, P. J.
Subjects:C Auxiliary Sciences of History > C Auxiliary sciences of history (General)
C Auxiliary Sciences of History > CC Archaeology
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > Archaeology
Journal Name:Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:0079-497X
ISSN (Online):2050-2729
Published Online:14 August 2019
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2019 The Prehistoric Society
First Published:First published in Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 85:83-114
Publisher Policy:Reproduced under a Creative Commons license

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Project CodeAward NoProject NamePrincipal InvestigatorFunder's NameFunder RefLead Dept
404041Colonsay midden projectNyree FinlayBritish Academy (BRITACAD)SG-40312HU - ARCHAEOLOGY