Digging and filling pits in the Mesolithic of England and Ireland: comparative perspectives on a widespread practice

Edward Blinkhorn, Elizabeth Lawton -Matthews, Graeme Warren

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In recent years development-led excavations have transformed regional Mesolithic datasets across Britain and Ireland. Studies of the results of these projects have highlighted the frequency with which supposedly mundane features such as pits are encountered on Mesolithic sites. Whilst pits have long been recognised on individual sites, it is only from analyses of large datasets that it has become possible to identify the ways in which pits and features in general can contribute valuable spatial, artefactual and geoarchaeological/palaeoenvironmental information to develop our understanding of life in the Mesolithic. This also facilitates comparison with the Neolithic of both regions, where a rich tradition of pit digging has been well documented archaeologically. Recent reviews of the evidence for pit digging, and the material recovered from pits, in England and Ireland have highlighted the prevalence of these features across a wide range of Mesolithic sites, as well as a diversity of interpretations of their uses. At the same time obstacles preventing complete analysis are presented by a lack of sampling and poor recording.

In this paper the authors compare the results of two systematic reviews of Mesolithic pits from England and Ireland, comparing and contrasting these to evidence from Scotland and Wales as appropriate. Both reviews uncovered extensive evidence for the presence of pits at sites of diverse purpose, and in varied landscape settings. The evidence from pit-fills points to various uses including site clearance and refuse disposal, deposition and possible caching, and burial. The spatial evidence indicates some interesting trends such as reuse and recutting as well as the presence of pit alignments. While there were similarities between the uses of pits in Ireland and England, some differences in character were also noted. The comparative perspective offered by this paper emphasises both the diversity of practices involving pits, and the importance of developing suitable future approaches to Mesolithic features.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCreuser au Mésolithique / Digging in the Mesolithic
Subtitle of host publicationActes de la séance de la Société préhistorique française de Châlons-en-Champagne (29-30 mars 2016)
EditorsNathalie Achard-Corompt, Emmanuel Ghesquière , Vincent Riquier
Place of PublicationParis
PublisherSociété Préhistorique Française
ISBN (Electronic)2-913745-73-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Publication series

NameSéances de la Société préhistorique française
ISSN (Print)2263-3847

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