Artificial islands discovered from the Stone Age

"Crannogs" in the Scottish Hebrides are older than Stonehenge

This islet in Loch Bhorgastail on the Hebridean island of Lewis was built around 5, 500 years ago from stone blocks and wooden beams. © F. Sturt / Antiquity, CC-by-sa 4.0
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Older than Stonehenge: In the Scottish Hebrides, our ancestors constructed artificial islands in lakes and in the sea more than 5, 500 years ago, as archaeologists have discovered. The round, up to 26-meter platforms lie in the shallow coastal area and were partially connected by dams to the shore. The purpose of these islands of stone and wooden beams is puzzling. However, researchers suspect a ritual use.

Artificial islands have a long tradition: as stilt houses they created new living space already in the Iron Age, in the Netherlands they were used for land reclamation. To this day, many coastal regions have the potential to expand out to the sea - whether for an airport like in Osaka, luxury homes for the rich in Dubai, or quite prosaically as oil rigs for oil or natural gas.

Islands of stone and wood

But when were the first artificial islands built? So far, the so-called Crannogs in Scotland and Ireland were the earliest examples of this. As early as 800 BC, people began to build hundreds of wooden and stone islands in shallow sea areas and bays. Until the Middle Ages, these up to 30-meter-wide islets were used as a fortified dwelling, workshop or retreat.

At the lake bottom near a Crannogs discovered Keramikgef from the Neolithic period. C. Murray / Antiquity, CC-by-sa 4.0

In the 1980s, archaeologists on the Hebridean island of North Uist came across a Crannog that seemed radically older than the radiocarbon dates. However, because no other similar ancient islands of this species were discovered, the age of this Eilean Domhnuill called Crannogs remained controversial.

Almost 3, 000 years older than previously known Crannogs

Now, however, Duncan Garrow of the University of Reading and Fraser Sturt of the University of Southampton on the Hebridean island of Lewis have discovered three more Crannogs that are significantly older than all previously known. "The discovery of numerous ceramic vessels from the surrounding lake bottom provided the first evidence of their Neolithic origin, " report the archaeologists. During excavations on the islands they came to more Neolithic relics. display

Dates showed that these finds date from around 3640 to 3360 BC. Thus, these artificial islands are thousands of years older than all known Crannogs. "These sites demonstrate that Crannogs were apparently already widespread in the Neolithic period, " state Garrow and Sturt. They suspect that other artificial islands in Scotland and Ireland could have come from this period. Because not all are so far dated or examined more closely.

"Enormous workload"

"These islands are clearly man-made, with blocks of stone thrown up on the bottom of the lake to create artificial islands, " explain the archaeologists. "These islands were probably surrounded on three sides by shallower water and on the fourth by deeper ones." One of the islands is additionally reinforced with wooden beams, which protect the construction on the sea side from slipping.

"To build these islands, an enormous amount of work was necessary, " explain the researchers. The Neolithic Crannogs are round, between almost 20 and 26 meters tall and have a flat, almost flat top. One of these islands is connected to the lake shore via a stone causeway. The others might once have been accessible by a boardwalk, or driven by boat, as Garrow and Sturt report.

Stone Age ritual places?

But why did these artificial islands serve? So far, the purpose of the Neolithic Crannogs is puzzling, as the archaeologists argue. Around the islands, they have discovered numerous ceramic vessels on the lake bottom, which had apparently been thrown into the water in intact condition. Ru spuren show that these pots were previously exposed to the fire and were therefore used what, is unclear.

"Such islands could have been special places that were used for social gatherings, ritual celebrations or other social events, " the archaeologists speculate. "The water environment symbolized a separation from everyday life and the process of crossing or crossing these islands might have emphasized this separation." Therefore, it seems likely that the events that took place on these islands, too were lifted out of everyday life.

Parallels with gangbers

"The activities on these islands may have been similar to those that took place elsewhere in the Hebrides on Graves, " the researchers say. Because with their narrow bridges or causeways, the transition to such an island resembled the passage through the tunnel of a Neolithic gull. "It is therefore even possible that these islands were associated with funeral rites, " said Garrow and Sturt.

Although the purpose of these artificial islands remains in the dark for the time being, the new finds prove that our ancestors created such structures much earlier than previously thought. "We are eagerly anticipating what the investigations and excavations of other Crannogs in the Outer Hebrides and beyond will bring to light, " the archaeologists say. "Because the practices and features discovered on Lewis' Crannogs force us to rethink our notions of Neolithic settlements, monumentality, and buildings." (Antiquity, 2019; doi: 10.15184 / aqy.2019.41)

Source: Antiquity

- Nadja Podbregar