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Title: Plants and people in the later prehistoric and Norse periods of the Western Isles of Scotland
Author: Church, M. J.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2002
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The first millennia BC and AD were a key period in the settlement history of Atlantic Scotland. There is a dramatic increase in the number and diversity of archaeological monuments, many of which are domestic in nature. The sites contain thousands of ecofacts and artefacts, allowing detailed insights into the workings and developments in everyday life across many different sites for the first time. The use of plants by humans would have been an essential component in many of these developments. Prior to this study, little direct evidence for human/plant interactions was available in the Western Isles, a pivotal location in the wider North Atlantic realm. The research focuses analysing and interpreting new carbonised plant macrofossil assemblages from nine multi-period sites in Lewis, the largest island in the Western Isles. A regional sampling strategy was employed, allowing direct statistical comparison of the archaeobotanical remains. Due consideration is given to the taphonomy of the carbonised plant assemblages. A generic model is proposed for most remains, involving the carbonisation of the plant material on household fires, followed by the spread of the ash and the carbonised material across the sites by various anthropogenic and natural transforms. Measurement of the mineral magnetic signatures of on-site sediments supports this model, highlighting both the distribution of ash and its correlation with macrofossil concentration in the stratigraphy. A new technique was also developed, using mineral magnetic measurements of experimental fire ashes to source the fuels used in the household fires. Application of this technique to ash from the archaeological sites indicated that well-humified peat was the principal fuel employed. Four interpretative research themes relating to the use of plants are then addressed. These include the arable economy, the management and procurement of wood and timber, the deliberate gathering of plants and the social dimension of plant use. Integration of these research themes resulted in the construction of a generic annual cycle of the human/plant interaction, requiring sophisticated systems of social co-operation, territoriality and land-division. Comparative analysis demonstrates that the cycle varied over time and space and also changed subtly over the wider region. Finally, various aspects of the cycle are highlighted with regard to the broader social developments occurring during the first millennia BC and AD.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available