Orcadian temple predates Stonehenge by 500 years
Celtic Society in the Iron Age
Religion in the Iron Age
Weapons and Wares in the Iron Age
Hill Forts in the Iron Age
Iron Age Britain Meets Rome

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 Orcadian temple predates Stonehenge by 500 years

Jan 2, 2012     By Gerry Braiden   Local Government Correspondent.

THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.

It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.

Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.

Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the "Brodgar Boy", was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.

Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the "whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago." He said it was of "a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts".

Mr Card added: "It's a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.

"At first we thought it was a settlement but the scale and complexity within the buildings makes you think along the lines of a temple precinct. It's something you would associate with the classical world."

Archeologist Julian Richards, who has written several books on Stonehenge, added: "The indication is that building was taking place when Stonehenge was still, relatively speaking, insignificant. We have tended to think we know how things were in the Neolithic period, then something like this turns that on its head."
 

Celtic Society in the Iron Age

An extract from an article by Brandon Huebner (Historian)

One evidence that supports a view of a burgeoning Britannia is the discovery of towns and villages from the period and even from years before. A prime example of just such a village can be seen in the seaside ruins at Skara Brae, Scotland. These ruins were discovered in the mid-19th century after a storm stripped off the grass that had overgrown the submerged ruins. What was uncovered was a small but complex housing system, estimated to have been inhabited during the years between 3000 and 2500 B.C. The ruins attest to a people who had established a fully functioning culture and had incorporated new innovations into their houses and daily lives. The ruins bear evidence of an indoor plumbing system, and they also show that the inhabitants placed their valued possessions (i.e. jewelry, carved weapons, pottery) on display in their homes on the large central "dressers" which are so prominent.

Evidence of later society can be seen in the Jarlshof ruins in Shetland, Scotland. It contains ruins dating from as early as 2500 B.C., but ruins dating up to the 17th century can be seen scattered throughout the area. The most obvious Iron Age ruin is that of a wheelhouse, a type of structure unique to Iron Age Scotland.

Religion in the Iron Age

Some of the most famous landmarks of the British Isles are the stone ring ruins such as those at Brodgar in Scotland or the most famous at Stonehenge. Although the exact function of these ruins is not perfectly known, most scholars agree that they served some religious function to the inhabitants of Britannia, both before and during the Iron Age. Most of these stone rings were constructed before the official dates of the Iron Age in Britain, but the monumental size of the various ruins attest to the manpower and ingenuity of the Britons, before they came to encounter the emissaries of Rome.

Another evidence of the religious culture of the period can be seen in the large number of tombs and mausoleums scattered throughout the country. Though not strictly religious sites, tombs and burial grounds bear a direct connection to a people's beliefs and religious convictions. A prime example of an ancient British burial mound is the West Kennet Long Barrow, a burial mound that was used around 2000 B.C. The burial mounds were constructed using stones walls and foundations but most were grown over with earth, so that an observer today might only see the tomb as a grassy mound on the British landscape. Inside the mound, however, intricate passageways and rooms held the bodies and treasure of the ancient Britons. Many of these tombs were targeted by Viking raiders in the 8th and 9th centuries, but some of the tombs remained untouched and have been invaluable resources to historians studying ancient Britain.

Weapons and Wares in the Iron Age

A third evidence of the sophistication and development of Iron Age British society is found in the weaponry which they produced. This is a quite convincing evidence of the skill and craftsmanship which the early Britons possessed. Simply seeing the beautiful ornamentation of the Battersea Shield is enough to convince anyone of the skill needed to create such a work. The shield itself was probably not made to serve as a serious instrument of war, but it could serve as a showpiece for a king, and that is probably what it was used for. It was found in the river Thames, as many weapons and shields were thrown into the river as sacrifices during the Iron Age. Another example of an Iron Age artifact is the horned helmet which was also dredged from the Thames River. This helmet is the only example of an Iron Age helmet that contains horns, as horns during that time period were a symbol of the gods.

Hill Forts in the Iron Age

Many historians point to the rising population in the Iron Age as the cause for the spike in the construction of fortifications during the time period. With the population base growing, and the food sources not rising to the increased demand, many local lords began to build strong, hilltop fortifications in which to defend the local people and their food store. Some historians also point out that the forts would have served as a perfect means with which to coral livestock, particularly cattle and sheep, and they contend that livestock keeping was the main purpose for these constructions, and not defense. Regardless of the builders intent, however, these hill forts are visible to this very day and they are another testament to the ingenuity and building skill of the Iron Age Britons. Maiden Castle is the largest example of a hill fort in England, and many of the forts, such as Cadbury Castle, were reoccupied after the Romans left the isles.

Iron Age Britain Meets Rome

The superior quality of the British weaponry and jewelry was a large factor in causing the Roman empire to take notice of the islands to Rome's northwest. In the period prior to the Roman invasions, a substantial trade had been established between the empire and the British isle peoples. Rome traded luxury items such as wine and oil to the Britons in exchange for the gold of the isles. Tacitus made comment about the Britons weapons and jewelry in his work Agricola when he referred to their gold and silver work, a comment whereby he concluded that "conquest is worth the while." Had the Britons themselves known that Rome held them in such a view, they would have had just cause for disquiet.

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