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Neolithic settlement at the woodland's edge: palynological data and timber architecture in Orkney, Scotland

Farrell, Michelle; Bunting, M. Jane; Lee, Daniel H. J.; Thomas, Antonia


Michelle Farrell

Daniel H. J. Lee

Antonia Thomas


It has often been assumed that the islands of Orkney were essentially treeless throughout much of the Holocene, with any ‘scrub’ woodland having been destroyed by Neolithic farming communities by around 3500 cal. BC. This apparently open, hyper-oceanic environment would presumably have provided quite marginal conditions for human settlement, yet Neolithic communities flourished and the islands contain some of the most spectacular remains of this period in north-west Europe. The study of new Orcadian pollen sequences, in conjunction with the synthesis of existing data, indicates that the timing of woodland decline was not synchronous across the archipelago, beginning in the Mesolithic, and that in some areas woodland persisted into the Bronze Age. There is also evidence to suggest that woodland communities in Orkney were more diverse, and therefore that a wider range of resources was available to Neolithic people, than has previously been assumed. Recent archaeological investigations have revealed evidence for timber buildings at early Neolithic settlement sites, suggesting that the predominance of stone architecture in Neolithic Orkney may not have been due to a lack of timber as has been supposed. Rather than simply reflecting adaptation to resource constraints, the reasons behind the shift from timber to stone construction are more complex and encompass social, cultural and environmental factors.


Farrell, M., Bunting, M. J., Lee, D. H. J., & Thomas, A. (2014). Neolithic settlement at the woodland's edge: palynological data and timber architecture in Orkney, Scotland. Journal of archaeological science, 51, 225-236.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date May 22, 2012
Online Publication Date Sep 4, 2012
Publication Date 2014-11
Deposit Date Apr 21, 2016
Publicly Available Date Oct 27, 2022
Journal Journal of archaeological science
Print ISSN 0305-4403
Electronic ISSN 1095-9238
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 51
Pages 225-236
Keywords Archaeology; Neolithic; Orkney; Pollen analysis; Woodland
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information This is the accepted version of an article published in Journal of archaeological science, v.51.


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Copyright Statement
© 2016. This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license

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