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Scottish Crannog Centre Loch Tay

Researchers find artificial islands in Scotland to be much older than previous estimates

Ancient human beings in the northern part of British Isles did not live on dry land always. In Scotland, Ireland and Wales, there are several artificial islands which are present even to this day. Named as crannogs, these structures were built by prehistoric humans in the middle of rivers, lakes. It has not been known exactly when these structures were constructed. Normally, archaeologists have estimated it to be built around 800 BCE. However, recent evidence tells a different story. These structures could have been built much before than realised by researchers. The study has been published in Antiquity journal.

With the help of radiocarbon dating on sites located in the Outer Hebrides which is the Western Isles of Scotland, scientists have detected crannogs which date back as far as 3640-3360 BCE, which means that early human beings started building them 5500 years ago, even before the construction of Stonehenge.

Archaeologist Fraser Sturt, University of Southampton told that the crannogs are a symbol of monumental effort made thousands of years before to construct mini-islands by piling up rocks on loch bed. This is not the first time that researchers have thought about the Neolithic origins of the crannogs. Excavations carried out in the 1980s showed that they could date back thousands of years although for decades no such other specimens were located.

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Things were shaken up when Chris Murray, former Royal Navy diver who resided in Scottish Isle of Lewis discovered a collection of very well preserved Early/Middle Neolithic pots on the loch bed while diving. Researchers then investigated Loch Arnish and other crannogs, many of which were not present in archaeological records with the help of Google Earth.

In total, the team discovered more than 200 Neolithic vessels made from ceramic, from five crannogs – which is an evidence of an extensive cultural practice we had not known about until now. Survey of these sites has demonstrated that crannogs had been a feature of the Neolithic and they may have been special locations, as found from evidence of deposition of material culture in the water.

According to the researchers, by the quantities of material identified and position of vessels in relation to islets, it is clear that the pots were intentionally deposited in water. Presence of soot on external surfaces and inner charred residues show that they were used before deposition. The amount of work gone into creating these giant structures make it clear that they had unique importance to the early community. The crannogs may have been reserved for important feasts, or mortuary rituals.

About the author: Kalpit Veerwal
Kalpit Veerwal is a second year Computer Science undergraduate at IIT Bombay. He is well known for being the only person to score 360/360 in JEE (Main). He is registered in the Limca Book of Records for the same. A blogger in his free time, he has also secured top ranks in various exams held in India and the world.

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