2. The Context of Warren Field, Crathes

Figure 1

Figure 1: Location map with principal sites mentioned in the text.

An intriguing addition to this debate relates to work carried out on a recently excavated pit alignment located near the Neolithic timber hall at Warren Field near Crathes in Aberdeenshire, Scotland (Murray et al. 2009 and Figure 1). Originally discovered during aerial reconnaissance in 1976 as a differential cropmark, the Crathes timber hall is an impressive structure associated with the earliest farmers in northern Britain and is dated to the first half of the 4th millennium BC. The subject of this article, however, is a relatively modest pit alignment near the hall, also evident as a cropmark on the aerial photograph (Figure 2). The pit group appears to have evolved over several hundred years to form a coherent arrangement of pits aligned from south-west to north-east (Figures 2-5). The alignment is not, however, a linear or straight construction. Instead the structure is formed of three sections arcing north-west to north-east. There is a clear trend from smaller features at each end of the alignment with larger pits, several more than two metres in diameter, occurring in the central section. One of the larger pits, number 6, appears to be deliberately offset, slightly to the south of the overall curve.

Figure 2

Figure 2: The Warren Field pit alignment recorded as cropmarking on a rectified oblique aerial photograph. KC632re (1976 © Crown Copyright RCAHMS 2013. This image is not covered by CC-BY 3.0 and permission will be required for any further use).

There are a total of 12 certain pits with three smaller, undated, postholes adjacent to the central, and largest, pit (number 5, see Figure 3). The excavation also located a series of smaller features in proximity to the pits. Where tested these were determined to be insubstantial, and were possibly the result of natural leaching or indicating the position of ploughed-out features. Other anomalies identified in the aerial photograph were targeted during evaluation of the wider environment to the south-east. A line of at least five undated post-pits aligned north-west to south-east were present approximately 40m to the south-east of the alignment; other potential features targeted were shown to be natural features or modern pits (Murray et al. 2009, 70).

Figure 3

Figure 3: The excavated pit alignment at Warren Field. Features 9-12 were not excavated. Green indicates a later recut and greyed features are of uncertain character. Plan based on Murray et al. (2009, fig. 3).

The primary features of the alignment are considerably older than the nearby timber hall and although there is evidence that the monument acquired its distinctive shape over a lengthy period, it is likely that all 12 pits had been cut, and the monument achieved its full form, by the early 8th millennium BC. This is a period when Scotland was settled by hunter-gatherers and is conventionally referred to as the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age (c. 10,000-4,000 BC). Until recently it was assumed that Mesolithic societies within the United Kingdom were relatively simple, seasonally nomadic and that small-scale communities associated with the period ranged across territories, hunting a variety of animals and gathering foodstuffs when in season (Milner and Woodman 2005; Saville 2004).

Figure 4 Figure 5

Figure 4: Warren Field during excavation in 2005 and showing pits pits 20 to 5 (see Figure 3 for details). Photograph by Moira Greig (© Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service Ref AAS-05-02-CT75)
Figure 5: Pits 5 and 6 during excavation. Post-pits 2 to 4 are in the foreground (© Charles Murray).


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