Beverley Ballin Smith (ed.)
Archaeopress, £25
ISBN 978-1784917708
Review George Nash

In 1974, later prehistoric structures, including the remains of a kerb-chambered cairn, were discovered at Udal on the Hebridean island of North Uist. The discovery prompted archaeologist Iain Crawford to undertake a three-year excavation of the site during the early 1990s. This revealed a variety of burial-ritual structures, comprising a stone cist with datable human remains, bowl pits, and two late Neolithic structures incorporated into a larger ritual complex. Crawford also undertook extensive palaeoenvironmental research which revealed clear climate change between the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age. Using the archaeology and the environmental evidence, he managed to establish a complex narrative for the Udal site.

Following the excavation, Crawford published a handful of articles that provided important summaries of what had been found. As with many large excavations and fieldwork projects that were undertaken during this time, however, the final report was not forthcoming. Unaudited costs of the post-excavation process were probably overlooked, resulting in the site archive and the finds being firmly lodged in Crawford’s house. Unfortunate oversights such as this were endemic during the mid- to latter part of the 20th century, and the excavation at Udal on North Uist appears to have been no exception. Enter Beverley Ballin Smith in 2008, who took up the gauntlet and pieced together Crawford’s well-ordered stored excavation archive to produce this remarkable account.

This well-crafted edited volume, organised into seven parts and using the original site photographic images, charts the history of the excavation, bringing together new post-excavation techniques with the original site archive, including AMS radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis, and Bayesian modelling – techniques that would not have been available to Crawford at that time. Funded by Historic Environment Scotland and five other sponsors, Ballin Smith and her colleagues have produced a worthy volume that answers many questions concerning the complex transition period between the Neolithic and Bronze Age within an area of the British Isles that would have been seen by late prehistoric pastoralists as the edge of the known world.

In 1974, later prehistoric structures, including the remains of a kerb-chambered cairn, were discovered at Udal on the Hebridean island of North Uist. The discovery prompted archaeologist Iain Crawford to undertake a three-year excavation of the site during the early 1990s. This revealed a variety of burial-ritual structures, comprising a stone cist with datable human remains, bowl pits, and two late Neolithic structures incorporated into a larger ritual complex. Crawford also undertook extensive palaeoenvironmental research which revealed clear climate change between the late Neolithic and the early Bronze Age. Using the archaeology and the environmental evidence, he managed to establish a complex narrative for the Udal site.

Following the excavation, Crawford published a handful of articles that provided important summaries of what had been found. As with many large excavations and fieldwork projects that were undertaken during this time, however, the final report was not forthcoming. Unaudited costs of the post-excavation process were probably overlooked, resulting in the site archive and the finds being firmly lodged in Crawford’s house. Unfortunate oversights such as this were endemic during the mid- to latter part of the 20th century, and the excavation at Udal on North Uist appears to have been no exception. Enter Beverley Ballin Smith in 2008, who took up the gauntlet and pieced together Crawford’s well-ordered stored excavation archive to produce this remarkable account.

This well-crafted edited volume, organised into seven parts and using the original site photographic images, charts the history of the excavation, bringing together new post-excavation techniques with the original site archive, including AMS radiocarbon dating, isotopic analysis, and Bayesian modelling – techniques that would not have been available to Crawford at that time. Funded by Historic Environment Scotland and five other sponsors, Ballin Smith and her colleagues have produced a worthy volume that answers many questions concerning the complex transition period between the Neolithic and Bronze Age within an area of the British Isles that would have been seen by late prehistoric pastoralists as the edge of the known world.

This review appeared in CA 346.

Leave a Reply