3. Hunter-gatherer Society and Monumentality

Archaeologically, the remains of Mesolithic societies are often associated with isolated finds of stone tools, larger concentrations of lithic debris and, exceptionally, sites that preserve wooden and other organic remains. However, this picture has changed recently. A number of sites in Ireland, Scotland and England have produced evidence for a variety of built structures, some of which were substantial and may have been home to generations of hunter-gatherer families (Conneller et al. 2012; BBC 2012; Milner et al. 2013; Taylor et al. 2010; Waddington 2007; Woodman 1985). Within the area around Warren Field there are a significant number of large lithic scatters, and the availability of important seasonal resources, most notably fish runs, are likely to have played a key role in supporting what seems to have been a relatively substantial, and possibly semi-sedentary, population (Boyd and Kenworthy 1993; Murray et al. 2009, 27). There is also some potential evidence for the presence of structures of this date at the nearby site of Nethermills of Crathes.

Current knowledge suggests that these early societies may well have been much more sophisticated than previously credited (Spikins 2008), but there remains, perhaps, a cautious attitude towards the interpretation of the material and social record for this period. While it is accepted that Mesolithic hunter-gatherers certainly had rich and elaborate lifestyles (Conneller 2004), the evidence for built monuments, associated with symbolic meaning or astronomic alignment, is more frequently asserted for the succeeding Neolithic phase and sedentary farming societies. Beyond Britain, however, the recent discovery of a substantial built structure, possibly linked with burial, and dated to the 9th millennium BC at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey has begun to raise the possibilities that we should expect hunter-gatherer societies to create substantial monuments at an early period (Schmidt 2010).

Although there are no known sites comparable to Göbekli Tepe in Britain, there is increasing evidence for a tradition of substantial built structures dated to this period and the potential for such structures to possess a symbolic value rather than simply a pragmatic role has been argued (Waddington 2007). It is also true that individual pits of Mesolithic date are not uncommon (Sergant et al. 2006; Mithen 2000; Wickham-Jones and Dalland 1998), although alignments that may be comparable to that found at Warren Field are extremely rare at the present time. The best-known example is a group of three pits found during the building of the visitor car park at Stonehenge (Cleal et al. 1995, 41-7). The Stonehenge examples are dated to the early 9th millennium and contained very large pine posts that have been interpreted as settings for totem poles within a special area. The possibility of some ritual purpose for these features has been recognised and a recent paper has asserted that there is a link between the Stonehenge pits and the later Stonehenge Cursus, an enigmatic linear enclosure nearly three kilometres in length and dated to the mid-4th millennium BC (Loveday 2012), and that both monuments may have been associated with lunar alignments. The double pit alignment at Nosterfield Quarry, north of the Thornborough monument complex in North Yorkshire, may be another example of a rare pit alignment of this date (Dickson and Hopkinson 2011, 119-25).


Internet Archaeology is an open access journal based in the Department of Archaeology, University of York. Except where otherwise noted, content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY) Unported licence, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided that attribution to the author(s), the title of the work, the Internet Archaeology journal and the relevant URL/DOI are given.

Terms and Conditions | Legal Statements | Privacy Policy | Cookies Policy | Citing Internet Archaeology

Internet Archaeology content is preserved for the long term with the Archaeology Data Service. Help sustain and support open access publication by donating to our Open Access Archaeology Fund.

File last updated: Fri Jul 12 2013