Archaeologists say fire pit feast remains found in Scotland are "early Neolithic cultural package"

By Ben Miller Published: 29 October 2015

Early Neolithic people feasted in South Lanarkshire around 6,000 years, suggest pits full of precious deposits

A photo of an archaeologist examining a brown pit in a field in South Lanarkshire, Scotland
Newly published analysis of archaeological finds has revealed the remains of feasting events from the fourth millennium BC near Glasgow© GUARD Archaeology
A set of carinated cooking bowls from the fourth millennium BC point to early Neolithic feasting in Scotland, according to archaeologists who have radiocarbon dated the vessels after finding them in a cluster of charcoal-filled pits at a quarry.

Fire-cracked stones, hazelnut shells and wheat grains were among the discoveries at Snabe Quarry, near Drumclog in South Lanarkshire. Fragments of a further ten bowls from the period, carefully placed within a pit alongside flint blades, pitchstones, Cumbrian tuff flakes and a fragment of polished stone axe, have also been analysed by experts.

“All the pottery vessels recovered from the excavations were cooking vessels, many with food residues,” says Maureen Kilpatrick, who led the project for GUARD Archaeology.

“They comprised carinated bowls, a type of pottery commonly found on early Neolithic domestic sites across Scotland and the British Isles in general.

A photo of a cored hazlenut from a neolithic scottish site
A hazelnut from the lower fill of one of the pits, possibly eaten by a woodmouse© GUARD Archaeology
“All but one of the pottery vessels was found in two pits in different parts of the site. Both of these pits are likely to have been fire-pits used during communal feasting events.

“There are a number of signs that indicate that the disposal of ten vessels in one pit was a deliberate act to 'close' this pit and the activities associated with it.

“There were 50 percent more surviving rim sherds than is normally expected from a prehistoric assemblage. It could be argued that some or all of these vessels were hurriedly made to be specifically used for cooking in the fire-pits, accounting for their poor manufacture and limited use.”

The pots are likely to have been intentionally broken and positioned inside the pits once the feasts, held between 3787 and 3631 BC, had finished.

“The same might be said of the early Neolithic lithics from the same pit, which included exotic materials such as pitchstone and tuff from as far away as Arran and Cumbria,” says Kilpatrick.

“The distribution of pots, their breakage and the apparent selection of specific pieces to be deposited in the pits then appears to have been deliberate.

“Investigations in the Biggar area of South Lanarkshire have shown that Arran pitchstone, Cumbrian tuff and carinated pottery frequently occur together, and this artefactual combination could be referred to as an early Neolithic cultural 'package'.”

The earliest of the carbon dates suggest that Snabe was first occupied during the late Mesolithic period. Abundant quantities of carbonised hazel nutshell and wheat grains – rather than barley, which only became the dominant cereal between the Bronze Age and the medieval period – also indicate a Neolithic date.

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Three museums to discover the archaeology of Scotland in

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
This permanent gallery, The Antonine Wall: Rome's Final Frontier, showcases the collection of spectacular monumental sculpture and other Roman artefacts recovered from the Wall, including richly sculptured distance slabs, unique to the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh
Current exhibition Celts tells the story of the different peoples who have used or been given the name ‘Celts’ through the stunning art objects that they made, including intricately decorated jewellery, highly stylised objects of religious devotion, and the decorative arts of the late 19th century which were inspired by the past.

Stewartry Museum, Dumfries
Thanks to years of collecting and the hard work of local metal detectorists, this museum holds an amazing collection of archaeology from the local area. Re-displayed, these ancient and important pieces are given new life through highlighted displays and enlarged images.