1. Introduction

This article aims to explore how Neolithic and Bronze Age coastal and island communities engaged with the sea, and how archaeologists might begin to study such practices. While past research has focused on these communities, some accounts have failed to look at how the archaeological evidence available might be related to activities associated with the sea. These prehistoric communities are studied as if they were landlocked, with little attention given to the use of marine resources, boats and the logistics of sea-borne movement (Branigan and Foster 2000; 2002; Cummings 2009; Parker Pearson 2012). This imbalance is perhaps not surprising as evidence within prehistoric Britain for activity on the sea is frequently ambiguous and incomplete. The title chosen for this article is a reference to the influential volume edited by John Cordell that cogently demonstrated the complexity of human interactions with the sea, an important milestone in the development of maritime anthropology (1989). The volume focused upon the everyday practices of small-scale fishing communities and their use of boats within coastal waters. Following Cordell's lead, this article will argue that in order to understand prehistoric coastal and island communities fully, we need to consider the role that the sea played in their creation and maintenance. As such, this article aims to redress this imbalance by concentrating upon the evidence for the use of small boats in western Britain by Neolithic and Bronze Age coastal and island communities. Themes for the study of such communities will be identified and explored with a case study that considers evidence from the Isles of Scilly. In exploring these themes, this article neither claims, nor aims, to provide an exhaustive account of the evidence or its interpretation. Rather, the intention is to highlight the central importance of the sea within British prehistory and suggest a number of ways in which we might begin to study its influences.


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