Settlement Duration and Materiality: Formal Chronological Models for the Development of Barnhouse, a Grooved Ware Settlement in Orkney

Colin Richards, Andrew Merrion Jones, Ann MacSween, Alison Sheridon, Elaine Dunbar, Paula Reimer, Alex Bayliss, Seren Griffiths, Alasdair Whittle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Radiocarbon dating and Bayesian chronological modelling, undertaken as part of the investigation by the Times of Their Lives project into the development of Late Neolithic settlement and pottery in Orkney, has provided precise new dating for the Grooved Ware settlement of Barnhouse, excavated in 1985–91. Previous understandings of the site and its pottery are presented. A Bayesian model based on 70 measurements on 62 samples (of which 50 samples are thought to date accurately the deposits from which they were recovered) suggests that the settlement probably began in the later 32nd century cal bc (with Houses 2, 9, 3 and perhaps 5a), possibly as a planned foundation. Structure 8 – a large, monumental structure that differs in character from the houses – was probably built just after the turn of the millennium. Varied house durations and replacements are estimated. House 2 went out of use before the end of the settlement, and Structure 8 was probably the last element to be abandoned, probably during the earlier 29th century cal bc. The Grooved Ware pottery from the site is characterised by small, medium-sized, and large vessels with incised and impressed decoration, including a distinctive, false-relief, wavy-line cordon motif. A considerable degree of consistency is apparent in many aspects of ceramic design and manufacture over the use-life of the settlement, the principal change being the appearance, from c. 3025–2975 cal bc, of large coarse ware vessels with uneven surfaces and thick applied cordons, and of the use of applied dimpled circular pellets. The circumstances of new foundation of settlement in the western part of Mainland are discussed, as well as the maintenance and character of the site. The pottery from the site is among the earliest Grooved Ware so far dated. Its wider connections are noted, as well as the significant implications for our understanding of the timing and circumstances of the emergence of Grooved Ware, and the role of material culture in social strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)193-225
Number of pages33
JournalProceedings of the Prehistoric Society
Early online date26 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2016


  • Radiocarbon Dating
  • bayesian chronological modelling
  • Orkney
  • Grooved Ware
  • Neolithic settlement
  • 15ref2021


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