Seasonality and Crannogs

The weather of the past few days here in Aberdeen has hinted that Spring is not too distant. It is so often archaeologically invisible, but even in modern times, where we benefit from climate controlled everything, changing seasons guide, shape and organise our lives. The ordering of life that seasonality places on a mostly or wholly agrarian society would be difficult to overstate. Throw in the foibles of changing weather year to year, month to month and day to day and it is easy to see how whole cosmologies developed around seasonal cycles. But within the discipline of archaeology seasons are not regularly discussed, and where they are, seasons tend to be discussed within works dedicated to addressing archaeology and seasonality specifically. This must stem from the fact that detecting archaeological evidence for seasonality is not always present or immediately obvious, and if possible at all, normally requires specific scientific analyses.

Castle Island, Loch Kinord from the north shore.

Castle Island, Loch Kinord from the north shore.

With respect to crannogs we can imagine that different seasons would have played a large part in daily life on a crannog, and may have been (as some have argued) the very reason they were constructed and occupied in the first place. It is difficult to imagine living on a crannog in highland Scotland through the winter. Out on the water is an exposed place, and doubly so in a crannog if you accept the idea that they were originally free-standing pile dwellings (ie. without the benefit of having ground, artificial or otherwise, beneath your habitation). This has led some to suggest that crannogs were only occupied in warmer months, but there is not yet widespread evidence for seasonal occupation. However, it is an attractive hypothesis that crannogs were occupied seasonally given just how cold it must be to occupy such a location through Scottish winters in the past (or indeed in the present).

Prison Island, Loch Kinord from the east shore.

Prison Island, Loch Kinord from the east shore.

Another idea has been proposed that suggests climactic downturns may have played a role in the construction and occupation of crannogs. Anne Crone compiled every radiocarbon date available from crannog sites in Scotland (this book chapter is freely available [[here]]), and she noted that there appears to be clustering of the radiocarbon dates at times which coincide with periods of deteriorating climate. This idea makes less intuitive sense as a wetter and colder climate would possibly make crannogs a less appealing habitation. But if we put aside personal comfort, it was perhaps the stresses that a deteriorating climate put on groups of people that necessitated building a crannog. If this is the case and crannogs were built in response to periods of colder and wetter climate, the reasons why building a crannog was necessary remain an intriguing question. Whether or not crannogs were occupied seasonally is perhaps less important than realising that all of Iron Age and Early Medieval society (crannog dwellers included) would have had their lives impacted and shaped by changing seasons. In a society where agriculture was the work of the vast majority of people seasons and seasonality are critical elements of everyday life.

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