Revealed by Waves: A Stratigraphic, Palaeoecological and Dendrochronological Investigation of a Prehistoric Oak Timber and Intertidal Peats, Bay of Ireland, West Mainland, Orkney

Scott Timpany, Anne Crone, Derek Hamilton, Michael Sharpe

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Abstract

The discovery of an oak timber, stratified within intertidal peats at the Bay of Ireland, Stenness, Orkney in 2013 represented a unique archaeological find. Subsequent excavation of the timber in order to safely retrieve it and learn more of its stratigraphical relationship before it was further eroded by the tide, took place in 2014. Dendrochronological and morphological study showed that the timber represented a possible radially split log with approximately half of the tree present and that it was c. 150 years of age when felled. No dendrochronological match could be made for the timber and so a wiggle-match date was obtained providing a Later Mesolithic felling date of 4410-4325 cal BC. This timber is thus the first and only evidence so far for the use of oak in the Mesolithic in Orkney. The timber is also significant palaeoecologically as it suggests that oak may have been indigenous to Orkney, adding to a growing argument for the existence of areas of “true woodland” on Orkney. Pollen evidence shows that oak was unlikely to have been growing in the immediate location and that the timber was deposited within reedswamp, fringed by willow-birch carr woodland. High microscopic and macroscopic charcoal values indicate Later Mesolithic communities exerted influence on the wetland through using burning as a tool for landscape modification. This burning together with the timber itself show that these communities were actively engaging with their environment. It is unknown what the timber represents; it may have been for construction purposes or as a marker/possible landing place showing the path to the Loch of Stenness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-539
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Island and Coastal Archaeology
Volume12
Issue number4
Early online date26 Feb 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017

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Keywords

  • Orkney
  • Oak Timber
  • Mesolithic
  • Palaeoecology
  • Archaeology
  • Dendrochronology
  • Wiggle-Match

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