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Stonehall Farm

Settlement (Period Unassigned), Unidentified Pottery (Neolithic)

Site Name Stonehall Farm

Classification Settlement (Period Unassigned), Unidentified Pottery (Neolithic)

Canmore ID 91745

Site Number HY31SE 38

NGR HY 366 126

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

C14 Radiocarbon Dating

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/91745

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Orkney Islands
  • Parish Firth
  • Former Region Orkney Islands Area
  • Former District Orkney
  • Former County Orkney

Archaeology Notes

HY31SE 38 366 126.

The initiation of a new landscape project in Orkney, investigating changing settlement organisation and material culture through the Neolithic period, began by excavating a settlement complex at Stonehall Farm. Here, a three-week season of excavation uncovered the remains of two early Neolithic houses, approximately 50m apart, adjacent to a large late Neolithic 'village'.

Although the excavations are incomplete, a wide range of material culture has been recovered, including a substantial assemblage of earlier round based pottery, unlike 'Unstan ware', and later Grooved ware pottery of identical nature to that excavated at Barnhouse, Stenness.

While the project is in its early stages, it has already provided important information regarding the range of material culture in use during the Neoiithic and the nature of early Neolithic (pre-Grooved ware) settlement patterns on Mainland, Orkney. The assumed individual farmstead model of early Neolithic settlement appears unjustified and through geophysical survey further potential houses have been identified. Hence, we may tentatively suggest that early Neolithic 'villages' are present on Mainland, Orkney, which, through further work, may throw light on the appearance of the late Neolithic 'Grooved ware villages'.

Sponsors: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Russell Trust, Glasgow Arch Society, University of Glasgow.

C Richards and R Jones 1994.

HY 365 127 As part of the University of Glasgow based Cuween-Wideford Neolithic Landscape project a second season of excavation was undertaken during the summer at Stonehall farm. Two areas begun last year continued to provide the focus for excavation. First, the larger trench 'B' provided further evidence of late Neolithic settlement with an area of ash and midden being piled up against a later house. The house structure was partially uncovered and contained a stone cist which will be fully examined next year. Overall, we are able to see a fairly long sequence of late Neolithic occupation at this site with at least two phases of house construction.

The second trench 'C', located on a small knoll at the base of Cuween Hill, produced two ruinous houses found to be constructed on a large paved area extending from an extremely well-preserved early Neolithic house. This house was only partially excavated but in the area examined stone furniture was found collapsed in situ. Further work in this area is also planned for 1996.

The two years of excavation at Stonehall have been extremely valuable in that two early Neolithic houses have been uncovered in close proximity and geophysical survey has detected two further structures which may well date to the same period. Hence, the possibility of the discovery of an early Neolithic village remains high. Also, the location of late Neolithic settlement extremely close to the early Neolithic houses may represent a continuity of habitation at Stonehall.

Sponsors: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, British Academy, University of Glasgow.

C Richards and R Jones 1995.

HY 366 126 A fifth season of excavation took place in August 2000 in conjunction with excavation at Crossiecrown as part of the Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project. Trench C was re-opened this year after a two-year interval (NMRS HY31SE 38).

Work commenced with the further examination of the main building (C1). The basic shape of this structure observed from work in previous seasons was confirmed and expanded. The arrangement of a stone-built 'longhouse' structure was confirmed: slightly curving walls and rounded gable ends, containing a tripartite chambered interior structured by the use of pinches in the walls. This detail was supplemented this year by the discovery of orthostats, which extended the divisional organisation out across the floors of the chambers. Additional uprights embedded in the floors of the chambers appeared to further divide some of the rooms into smaller spaces. Collapsed internal orthostats were raised, and some idea of their original positions could be appreciated. Their removal allowed access to the floor deposits below. Two major floor levels were observed - a primary clay floor and a secondary re-laying of the floor, again in clay. One particularly significant feature was the stone hearth setting found in the centre of the middle of the three chambers. Samples from the hearth and/or from charcoal-bearing deposits across the floors are expected to yield suitable material for radiocarbon dates.

The floor deposits contained little artefactual material. A few flint scrapers were recovered and an area of debitage arrayed in an arc around the E side of the hearth may have represented a small knapping event. Two badly degraded sherds of pottery appear to be Early Neolithic in character, but confirmation of the date of the main structure in Trench C awaits radiocarbon determinations.

The more ephemeral activity outside (to the S) of structure C1 consisted of a hearth setting fringed by flagstone slabs, several orthostats and some possible coursed wall remnants. This activity probably represents another house/building and may have been partly robbed for materials in the construction of structure C1 that, nevertheless, seems to have respected the presence of the earlier structure. To the W of this structure, and partly overlain by it was a semi-circle of walling surviving in two courses. The removal of slabs above this feature revealed orthostats at either terminal of the wall arc closing the feature off in a roughly D-shape. No further deposits or artefacts were associated with this structure, and little idea of its role or status could be inferred other than its basic stratigraphic primacy in Trench C.

To conclude our investigations into the ruinous Early Neolithic house structure encountered in the corner of the cultivated field at Stonehall (Trench A) in 1994, a further trench (Z) was opened on the opposite (W) side of the boundary ditch. As expected, due to the absence of regular ploughing, preservation was substantially enhanced. The remains of two adjacent buildings were discovered with the northern example having up to six courses of masonry remaining of its outer wall. The northern building was completely excavated and was found to be very similar to the larger house structure at Knap of Howar, Papa Westray. Given the presence of adjacent buildings and the presence of Early Neolithic material culture (such as round-based pottery and polished stone axes), it seems likely that these houses are of a similar nature to the Knap of Howar arrangement.

Through our investigations at Stonehall, we appear to have encountered a substantial Early Neolithic settlement complex. Up to seven possible houses have been examined in four trenches within an area of 150 x 150m. Consequently, we now have to consider the possibility of the Orcadian Early Neolithic period being defined by 'dispersed' village settlements.

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, University of Glasgow, University of Manchester, Orkney College, Orkney Archaeological Trust.

M Carruthers and C Richards 2000

Activities

Excavation (1994)

The initiation of a new landscape project in Orkney, investigating changing settlement organisation and material culture through the Neolithic period, began by excavating a settlement complex at Stonehall Farm. Here, a three-week season of excavation uncovered the remains of two early Neolithic houses, approximately 50m apart, adjacent to a large late Neolithic 'village'.

Although the excavations are incomplete, a wide range of material culture has been recovered, including a substantial assemblage of earlier round based pottery, unlike 'Unstan ware', and later Grooved ware pottery of identical nature to that excavated at Barnhouse, Stenness.

While the project is in its early stages, it has already provided important information regarding the range of material culture in use during the Neoiithic and the nature of early Neolithic (pre-Grooved ware) settlement patterns on Mainland, Orkney. The assumed individual farmstead model of early Neolithic settlement appears unjustified and through geophysical survey further potential houses have been identified. Hence, we may tentatively suggest that early Neolithic 'villages' are present on Mainland, Orkney, which, through further work, may throw light on the appearance of the late Neolithic 'Grooved ware villages'.

Sponsors: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Russell Trust, Glasgow Arch Society, University of Glasgow.

C Richards and R Jones 1994.

Excavation (1995)

HY 365 127 As part of the University of Glasgow based Cuween-Wideford Neolithic Landscape project a second season of excavation was undertaken during the summer at Stonehall farm. Two areas begun last year continued to provide the focus for excavation. First, the larger trench 'B' provided further evidence of late Neolithic settlement with an area of ash and midden being piled up against a later house. The house structure was partially uncovered and contained a stone cist which will be fully examined next year. Overall, we are able to see a fairly long sequence of late Neolithic occupation at this site with at least two phases of house construction.

The second trench 'C', located on a small knoll at the base of Cuween Hill, produced two ruinous houses found to be constructed on a large paved area extending from an extremely well-preserved early Neolithic house. This house was only partially excavated but in the area examined stone furniture was found collapsed in situ. Further work in this area is also planned for 1996.

The two years of excavation at Stonehall have been extremely valuable in that two early Neolithic houses have been uncovered in close proximity and geophysical survey has detected two further structures which may well date to the same period. Hence, the possibility of the discovery of an early Neolithic village remains high. Also, the location of late Neolithic settlement extremely close to the early Neolithic houses may represent a continuity of habitation at Stonehall.

Sponsors: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, British Academy, University of Glasgow.

C Richards and R Jones 1995.

Excavation (2000)

HY 366 126 A fifth season of excavation took place in August 2000 in conjunction with excavation at Crossiecrown as part of the Cuween-Wideford Landscape Project. Trench C was re-opened this year after a two-year interval (NMRS HY 31 SE 38).

Work commenced with the further examination of the main building (C1). The basic shape of this structure observed from work in previous seasons was confirmed and expanded. The arrangement of a stone-built 'longhouse' structure was confirmed: slightly curving walls and rounded gable ends, containing a tripartite chambered interior structured by the use of pinches in the walls. This detail was supplemented this year by the discovery of orthostats, which extended the divisional organisation out across the floors of the chambers. Additional uprights embedded in the floors of the chambers appeared to further divide some of the rooms into smaller spaces. Collapsed internal orthostats were raised, and some idea of their original positions could be appreciated. Their removal allowed access to the floor deposits below. Two major floor levels were observed - a primary clay floor and a secondary re-laying of the floor, again in clay. One particularly significant feature was the stone hearth setting found in the centre of the middle of the three chambers. Samples from the hearth and/or from charcoal-bearing deposits across the floors are expected to yield suitable material for radiocarbon dates.

The floor deposits contained little artefactual material. A few flint scrapers were recovered and an area of debitage arrayed in an arc around the E side of the hearth may have represented a small knapping event. Two badly degraded sherds of pottery appear to be Early Neolithic in character, but confirmation of the date of the main structure in Trench C awaits radiocarbon determinations.

The more ephemeral activity outside (to the S) of structure C1 consisted of a hearth setting fringed by flagstone slabs, several orthostats and some possible coursed wall remnants. This activity probably represents another house/building and may have been partly robbed for materials in the construction of structure C1 that, nevertheless, seems to have respected the presence of the earlier structure. To the W of this structure, and partly overlain by it was a semi-circle of walling surviving in two courses. The removal of slabs above this feature revealed orthostats at either terminal of the wall arc closing the feature off in a roughly D-shape. No further deposits or artefacts were associated with this structure, and little idea of its role or status could be inferred other than its basic stratigraphic primacy in Trench C.

To conclude our investigations into the ruinous Early Neolithic house structure encountered in the corner of the cultivated field at Stonehall (Trench A) in 1994, a further trench (Z) was opened on the opposite (W) side of the boundary ditch. As expected, due to the absence of regular ploughing, preservation was substantially enhanced. The remains of two adjacent buildings were discovered with the northern example having up to six courses of masonry remaining of its outer wall. The northern building was completely excavated and was found to be very similar to the larger house structure at Knap of Howar, Papa Westray. Given the presence of adjacent buildings and the presence of Early Neolithic material culture (such as round-based pottery and polished stone axes), it seems likely that these houses are of a similar nature to the Knap of Howar arrangement.

Through our investigations at Stonehall, we appear to have encountered a substantial Early Neolithic settlement complex. Up to seven possible houses have been examined in four trenches within an area of 150 x 150m. Consequently, we now have to consider the possibility of the Orcadian Early Neolithic period being defined by 'dispersed' village settlements.

Sponsors: Historic Scotland, University of Glasgow, University of Manchester, Orkney College, Orkney Archaeological Trust.

M Carruthers and C Richards 2000

References

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