Rulers feasted and monks lived on artificial Neolithic islands in the Middle Ages

(ORDO NEWS) — Some of our contemporaries, burdened with wealth, are trying to demonstrate their success to others by buying ocean islands. It turns out that the elites of Ireland and Scotland were doing something similar a thousand years ago. True, the scale was more modest.

The journal Antiquity published a paper whose authors analyzed DNA samples collected in nearby (up to ten meters) deposits around artificial islands in Scotland and Ireland. These islands we call crannogs, they were built on lakes, in swamps, in estuaries of rivers or on shallow reefs in bays.

The most ancient crannogi appear about four thousand years BC, in the Neolithic era. According to today’s ideas, people built these small islands – up to 30 meters in diameter – to protect themselves from aliens, that is, migrants from continental Europe.

An artificial island surrounded by a palisade, from which there was only one narrow road to land, is a fairly convenient object for defense.

Rulers feasted and monks lived on artificial Neolithic islands in the Middle Ages 2
Artificial islands were built in Ireland and Scotland, to a lesser extent in Wales

Time passed, but the crannogs, judging by the carbon-14 dating, remained inhabited: people lived on the old islands and built new ones until the 16th century.

It would seem that the Middle Ages are the time of castles, of which there are many in Scotland and Ireland, and which are better able to cope with the protective function. But crannogs still somehow attracted people.

Wetlands are much more difficult to study than those on land, so crannog archeology is a relatively new endeavor. The authors of the work investigated one object in Scotland (used from about 500 BC to the tenth year of our era) and two in Ireland (650-1300 AD).

They took samples and analyzed the DNA of sedimentary rocks, a new method that allows scientists to identify all the plants and animals that once lived in a particular area of ​​​​now wetland. As the analysis showed, people grew cereal plants on artificial islands, which, in general, was not news.

Rulers feasted and monks lived on artificial Neolithic islands in the Middle Ages 3
The diagram shows how deposits formed around the crannogs

But he also identified the presence of atypical plants on crannogs, such as bracken ( Pteridium ). This is a species of fern that, according to the authors, was introduced to the islands for use as bedding or roofing material.

DNA analysis of swamp deposits also showed that livestock were kept on the islands – domesticated cows, sheep, pigs and goats.

Combining their findings with previous studies of pollen and animal bones, the scientists hypothesized that they could quickly and inexpensively identify a number of activities of the ancient inhabitants of such places: for example, keeping animals, slaughtering animals, feasting and ceremonies.

We recently reported that scientists have found traces of wheat and milk on Neolithic pottery found on a crannog in the Outer Hebrides, evidence that in the 4th millennium BC people cooked wheat porridge.

The authors of the new work went approximately the same way as their colleagues, but only studied much later periods.

They came to the conclusion that if at the very beginning the artificial islands had a protective function, then later (from about the 8th century BC to the beginning of the 1st century AD) they began to arrange farms.

A number of artifacts found by previous archaeological expeditions indicate that around the same period, crannogs located on the rivers were used as a kind of trading platform – after all, trade routes ran along the rivers.

The authors believe that in medieval Scotland crannogs can be seen as water houses or palaces. Today’s wealthy buy a house on the waterfront or an island in the ocean to demonstrate their status, while the elites of Scotland and Ireland of that time built (or reconstructed an old) artificial island on a nearby picturesque lake. Judging by the DNA analysis of the deposits, there were festivities and feasts.

In addition, some Irish crannogs were used by the Church, especially during the early Middle Ages (5th-11th century AD). In Ireland, the so-called model of ascetic monasticism was then widespread, when the central monastery was surrounded by hermitages in remote places, primarily on the islands.

In Scotland, this practice was not common – perhaps because Christianization touched those places much later than Ireland (which became Christian in Antiquity and remained so in the future), – by the end of the Dark Ages.


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