Archaeologists find rotted Iron Age roundhouse, decorated pottery and evidence of vegetable processing and warfare in Scotland

By Ben Miller | 12 February 2015

Evidence of vegetable processing and warfare found in "relatively neglected" area of Scotland

A photo of a muddy brownfield site surrounded by archaeological implements
Excavation at the site in Monkton began in 2011© Guard Archaeology
Prehistoric decorated cooking pots and food traces from the medieval period have been discovered at a housing development in south-west Scotland where five fire pits and a ring-grooved Iron Age house once stood.

Settlers intermittently occupied Monkton, in Ayrshire, between Mesolithic and post-medieval times, according to archaeologists who are describing the site as a “palimpsest of prehistory”.

“The earliest identifiable activity on the site was an accumulation of charcoal-rich material that overlay a circular pit, dated to the 7th millennium BC,” says Christine Rennie, who led the excavation and subsequent analyses.

“Despite the number of pits and post-holes found across the site, no particular pattern or structures could be identified.

“Botanical analysis suggests that some Mesolithic occupation took place here, although the quantity of carbonised material indicates that the location was revisited on more than one occasion.'”

Neolithic evidence proved more prevalent. Radiocarbon dating on a range of pottery vessels showed activity between the mid-4th and late 3rd centuries BC.

“For a small collection, the assemblage is unusual in containing sherds of various types of decorated pottery and more plain cooking pots from the same period,” says Beverley Ballin Smith, of the Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division

“The range of vessels was dominated by Impressed Wares that are relatively rare for this region of Scotland and uncommon when compared to other types of Neolithic pottery.

“The Monkton assemblage fills a gap in the South Ayrshire area and provides information on a range of different pots and decorative motifs.”

Contrasting sharply with the sparse decoration afforded to the cooking pots, the flamboyant vessel rims could point to broad, extraordinary rituals. A relatively small number of lithic artefacts have been found, mostly dating to the mid and late Neolithic period.

“These lithic finds inform on later Neolithic lithic artefact forms and technology – the exchange of Yorkshire flint, which until now has been somewhat less common in south-west Scotland in comparison with the importation of flint from Antrim, and site activities,” believes Torben Ballin, who analysed two stray microlith-related pieces, a pitchstone microblade and a small group of quartz artefacts from the roundhouse.

“A scale-flaked, serrated piece relates to the processing of vegetable matter and a scraper may have been engaged in the processing of hides, although it cannot be ruled out that it was used to process harder materials like wood, antler or bone.

“Two arrowheads relate to either hunting or warfare.”

The roundhouse – one of several known but unexcavated structures around Monkton – was the only identifiable building. Barley and oats were found in the Iron Age pits, with traces of wheat and barley in the Neolithic deposits.

Experts believe a lack of charcoal and a number of rotting timbers indicate that the house fell into disuse and may have rotted after years of abandonment rather than burning down.

“The site at Monkton is one of a small but increasing number of excavated sites situated on the raised beaches of the Ayrshire coast,” explains Rennie.

“Recent excavations at the Curragh, near Girvan, also revealed a multi-phase site, with activity during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and early Iron Age.

“Further research into these multi-phase sites of Ayrshire, particularly the raised beach coastal sites, is required in order to better understand the patterns of prehistoric settlement in this relatively neglected area of Scotland.”

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