Approximately 5,600 years ago in Scotland, Neolithic man constructed fake islands out of boulders, clay, and wood, according to a new study. These islands, known as crannogs, were originally thought to have been made during the Iron Age, about 2,800 years ago.
While scientists have known about the crannogs for decades, recent discoveries may finally be able to answer a much larger question: What exactly was the purpose of the islands?
According to Live Science, the crannogs clearly held special significance for the people who built them:
“The new finding not only shows that these crannogs are much older than previously thought but also that they were likely ‘special locations’ for Neolithic people, according to nearby pottery fragments found by modern divers, the researchers wrote in the study.”
In order to find out more about the crannogs, archaeologists, Duncan Garrow from the University of Reading and Fraser Sturt from the University of Southampton looked at an area off the coast of Northern Scotland, where they found a plethora of small man-made islands in three lakes.
After finding pottery fragments near the crannogs, a conclusion was reached: The pots were probably dropped into the water intentionally, very likely as some sort of ritual.
Garrow and Sturt write in their findings, which can be found in Antiquity:
“Artificial islets, or crannogs, are widespread across Scotland. Traditionally considered to date to no earlier than the Iron Age, recent research has now identified several Outer Hebridean Neolithic crannogs. Survey and excavation of these sites has demonstrated—for the first time—that crannogs were a widespread feature of the Neolithic and that they may have been special locations, as evidenced by the deposition of material culture into the surrounding water. These findings challenge current conceptualisations of Neolithic settlement, monumentality and depositional practice, while suggesting that other ‘undated’ crannogs across Scotland and Ireland could potentially have Neolithic origins.”
Five crannogs in the Outer Hebrides were built 5,000 years ago, perhaps for ritual purposes. https://t.co/ddXBZQ04oq
— Smithsonian Magazine (@SmithsonianMag) June 15, 2019
And since the pottery may have been used in rituals, we can also speculate that the islands themselves held some special significance for Neolithic cultures. Perhaps an early form of religion or other worship service? Garrow noted:
“Such islets may well have represented substantial symbols for, and of, the communities that constructed them.
“These islets could also have been perceived as special places, their watery surroundings creating separation from everyday life.”
#Scotland has ~600 crannogs (small man-made islands made of rocks as big as 550 lbs). New research says some crannogs are over 5600 years old, 3000 years older than previously thought. Neolothic man built big things with rocks (ie #Stonehenge) but we often don't know why.#nspoli pic.twitter.com/8kfTV4WNKI
— MANS (@MiningNS) June 15, 2019
The crannogs may have also had other uses, according to a report from The Sun:
“It remains unclear what the sites were used for, but experts think they were special places for social gatherings, ritual feasts or funeral sites.”
Clearly, these islands were of importance to those who took the time to create them. And perhaps in time we will finally know the purpose of the crannogs. Until then, we are left with yet another mystery surrounding one of our ancestors who walked the face of the planet eons ago.
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