Structure, metaphor and funerary practices in Neolithic Scotland - NMS Research Repository
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Book chapter

Structure, metaphor and funerary practices in Neolithic Scotland

2020

Abstract

As noted elsewhere in this volume, the argument that Neolithic funerary monuments in Britain echo the design of the houses of the living, and acted as houses for the dead, was proposed by Ian Hodder in the 1980s (1982, 1984), developing an idea regarding long barrows earlier articulated by Gordon Childe (1949). Hodder drew parallels between the trapezoidal shape of many long barrows and that of earlier houses belonging to the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture on the Continent, between stalled cairns and earlier Neolithic houses in Orkney; and also between the cruciform shape of Maeshowe-type passage tomb chambers and that of Late Neolithic houses of Skara Brae, also in Orkney. This model ha been influential and has been subsequent commentators (e.g. Bradley 1996; 2019, 54-62; Richard 1992; Richards and Jones 2016, 40).

While attractive in its simplicity of concept, this model is not without its problems, not least as regards the significant chronological gap between British long mounds and the LBK houses that are supposed to have inspired their shape, as discussed by Alasdair Whittle elsewhere in this volume. This contribution offers a critical view of the relationship between house design and the design of funerary practice there. This task has been greatly facilitated by the increase in the numbers of houses (including the large 'halls') and of radiocarbon-dated sites in Scotland over the last 20 years, particularly as far as Orkney is concerned (Bayliss et al. 2017) - although, as will be seen, many more houses and dates will be required if we are to refine our narrative.

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