KNAP OF HOWAR HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT SCOTLAND STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE. Property in Care (PIC) ID: PIC301 Designations:

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1 Property in Care (PIC) ID: PIC301 Designations: Scheduled Monument (SM90195) Taken into State care: 1954 (Guardianship) Last reviewed: 2004 HISTORIC ENVIRONMENT SCOTLAND STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE KNAP OF HOWAR We continually revise our Statements of Significance, so they may vary in length, format and level of detail. While every effort is made to keep them up to date, they should not be considered a definitive or final assessment of our properties. Historic Environment Scotland Scottish Charity No. SC Principal Office: Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH

2 Historic Environment Scotland Scottish Charity No. SC Principal Office: Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH

3 KNAP OF HOWAR BRIEF DESCRIPTION The monument comprises the substantially complete excavated walls and internal stone fittings of two early Neolithic houses and an area associated with them. They are the earliest houses yet recognised in Orkney. The houses were built over and into midden, with which no structures have yet been recognised. The two houses are oblong on plan with rounded corners, and lie side-by-side, aligned NW-SE. The houses stand to a height of just over 1.6m and their entrances, which point to the NW, are intact to lintel height. They are linked by a short passage that connects through their abutting side walls. The larger house 1, to the SW, measures 12.5m by 8.0m externally and is 9.5m by 4.7m internally. It has upright stone partitions making it into two compartments, and traces of postholes suggest it had a low-pitched roof, partially corbelled and most likely thatched or turfed. A hearth is located in the inner part of the house, as is a stone-built cupboard. There may have been an external porch. The construction of the smaller house 2 proved to be slightly later in date than its neighbour. It measures 9.2m by 5.0m externally and is 7.5m by 3.2m internally. It also has upright stone partitions which divide it into three compartments, stonebuilt cupboards and had a hearth. The site is on the west coast of Papa Westray, one of the northernmost of the Orkney Islands. It is accessed by a short walk along a track and across fields. CHARACTER OF THE MONUMENT Historical Overview Entrance to one of houses discovered. Early 1930s Partial excavations by Traill and Kirkness; remains left open. William Traill, owner, reports collapse of wall and offers Guardianship. Commissioners of Works decline Traill s offer due to cost of other commitments. Architect s Report produced. Sea wall constructed. Negotiations with Thomas Traill opened on William Traill s death. Site inspection suggests site has not suffered any damage since Principle of guardianship completed. Access route defined. Guardianship deed. Finds retrieved from beach (Mr W Traill had thrown them there). 1/4

4 1973, 1975 Re-excavation by Dr Anna Ritchie to prepare the houses for consolidation and to obtain cultural and chronological information. Reexcavation of house 1, excavation of two middens to the S, re-excavation of house 2 and excavation of adjacent area of midden (see Ritchie 1983, fig 2). Archaeological Overview Until the excavations of the 1970s it had been thought that these structures belong to the Iron Age rather than Neolithic period. It appears that primary midden material (including that below and in the wall core of house 1) consistently dates to between about 3650 and 3350 cal BC (there is no radiocarbon date for house 1 other than a terminus ante quem). Primary activity in house 2 probably dates to around 3350 to 3100 cal BC with secondary activity around 3350 to 3000 cal BC. None of the available dates suggest any activity after about 3100 cal BC. Evidence has been produced for a mixed agricultural economy, including cereal production (barley and wheat), domestic animals and exploitation of wild resources. The site has produced a series of distinctive coarse stone tools: grinders and borers function obscure, although they do appear at later Neolithic settlements in Orkney. Due in large measure to factors of discovery and recovery, our knowledge of early Neolithic settlements in Orkney is far smaller than that for later Neolithic settlements (the other examples are at Stonehall and Wideford Hill, Mainland Orkney). House is a term of convenience: house 2 may have been used as a workshop and for storage rather than predominantly for dwelling, for instance. Artistic/Architectural Overview The architecture of Orcadian Neolithic houses mirrors that of contemporary tombs. The architecture of Knap of Howar connects such buildings to the design of contemporary stalled chambered tombs (e.g. Midhowe). A similar type of pottery, so-called Unstan Ware, is found on both. These can be distinguished from later Neolithic architecture in Orkney where houses (such as at Skara Brae) have more in common with Maeshowe-type tombs and used Grooved Ware pottery. This distinction is now thought to be chronological rather than cultural, but is more fuzzy than expressed above. There is an ongoing debate about how far the distribution of domestic and funerary sites in Orkney reflects different traditions on different islands and how far it is largely chronological. The form of these buildings apparently required the use of timber, probably both grown locally and supplemented from driftwood or imports. The recent discovery of what seems to have been a substantial timber houses of 2/4

5 broadly similar form at Wideford Hill promises to enhance our understanding of the relationship between timber and stone domestic structures in Scotland. Social Overview Not formally assessed, but the value of this site as an important local heritage attraction is clearly recognised by the get-ahead community on this small and remote island. Spiritual Overview The relationship between the architecture of the houses of the living and tombs of the dead, as exemplified at Knap of Howar, has the potential to provide an insight into contemporary belief systems. As at other Neolithic settlements in Orkney, there is evidence from artefacts that domestic spaces were also used for ceremonial and ritual activities (note, for instance, the presence of an antler and a whalebone macehead, each similar in form to stone equivalents). Aesthetic Overview The well-preserved ruins, with their grassy wallheads and surrounds, nestle discreetly on a gentle seaward-facing slope. The outlook is distinctively maritime and is a useful reminder of the extent to which Neolithic communities used the sea as an economic resource and for transport. What are the major gaps in understanding of the property? Only a part of the site has been explored. Midden underlies the houses and this is clearly part of a more extensive and as yet unexplored settlement. The extent to which Knap of Howar is typical of early Neolithic settlements in Orkney is not certain; it is no longer thought that early Neolithic settlements were isolated farmsteads in contrast to later nucleated settlements, however. ASSESSMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE Key points: Knap of Howar is the best preserved visible example of an early Neolithic settlement anywhere in NW Europe; the only known contemporary sites in Orkney have only been recognised from their low foundations beneath ploughed fields. From the surviving internal stone structures and excavation we have some understanding of how its internal space was divided. Pre-structure sediments are of high archaeological significance for their potential to provide information on the earliest agricultural land-use in Orkney. Owing to the abundant preservation of animal remains, this site provides important dietary information about some of the earliest farmers in Scotland. 3/4

6 Knap of Howar is the key site by which the close relationship between contemporary tombs has been recognised, a trend that continues through into late Neolithic domestic and burial architecture. Associated Properties Slightly later Neolithic settlements can be visited at Skara Brae, Barnhouse and, although not visible, Links of Noltland. Historic Environment Scotland has many Neolithic tombs in its care on Orkney as well as the monuments of Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Of these, Holm of Papa Westray South is located on an uninhabited island to the immediate W of Papa Westray. In terms of architectural form, the most closely related tombs are Midhowe, Blackhammer, Knowe of Yarso, Unstan and Isbister (Tomb of the Eagles); one of the opened tombs on Holm of Papa Westray is also stalled (this is not a formally publicly accessible monument). Excavated finds are in the National Museums of Scotland in Edinburgh. Keywords Orkney mesolithic, neolithic, houses, Unstan Ware pottery, maceheads, 4/4

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