Edited by Duncan Garrow and Fraser Sturt
Oxbow Books, £38.00
Review George Nash
It is only recently that a general interest in the so-called ‘Western Seaways’ has been acknowledged. Previously, fieldwork projects in the Channel Islands archipelago, the Scillies and island groups within the western British Isles were treated as merely unique and sometimes quirky ventures that did not fit into a British prehistoric sequence (or a European one, for that matter). Over the past 30 years or more, however, archaeologists have begun to piece together a complex Neolithic maritime package that throws new light on communication between these later prehistoric isolated island communities. These ‘stepping stones’, as they are described here, would have been a fundamental bridge (so to speak) for transmitting ritual and sacred as well as socio-political ideology to communities settled along the coastal fringes of the British Isles.
The focus of the Garrow and Sturt book is on the character and distinctiveness of late Mesolithic/early Neolithic settlement on the island archipelagos of the Channel Islands (the site of L’Erée, Guernsey), the Scillies (Old Quay on St Martin’s) and the Outer Hebrides (Doirlinn, South Uist). With all three areas there is clear evidence for inter-island/continental dynamics between certain communities, evidenced by the material culture present within each site. The authors argue that despite movement and communication links, particular island communities were eager to retain their own specific identity.
Although Garrow and Sturt have previously published material from these sites, this book will be an essential synthesis for those who are interested in the processes of social and economic change between advanced hunter-fisher-gatherers and those island communities that adopted the Neolithic package.
The book, divided into five readable chapters, informs the reader of a seascape that is in flux, extending from the late Mesolithic to the Iron Age. Using the results of a number of shoreline excavations between 2008 and 2014 (with supporting specialist reports), the authors provide the reader with a tantalising insight into these Western Seaway communities.
This review appeared in CA 334.