Harnessing the waves: monuments and ceremonial complexes in Orkney and beyond

Gordon Noble* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Utilising recent observations by Phillips (2003) on the location of chambered cairns in Orkney in relation to the sea this paper attempts to explain why megalithic monuments cluster in particular locations. In the past, the distribution of cairns has been related to the levels of survival in marginal locations. However, monument locations, from across Scotland, demonstrate that clustering was a feature of monumental distribution in the past. From a maritime perspective it becomes easier to understand these groupings in Orkney as the product of interactions between widely dispersed island communities. Utilising a long-term perspective it is possible to use the relative patterning of monuments of different ages to suggest the changing audiences to whom these monuments were addressed. For example, the clustering of Earlier Neolithic monuments in Orkney, in places that form important linking locales, suggests a role for these monuments involving establishing and maintaining links between island groups within the Orkney archipelago. The location of later Neolithic monumental complexes, on the other hand, suggests the importance of inter-regional maritime contact at precisely the time when such contacts are strikingly evident in the archaeological record. It is argued that a closer integration of our approaches to land and sea is needed if we are to understand the nature of long distance contacts in the past.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-117
JournalJournal of Maritime Archaeology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2006


  • Neolithic
  • orkney
  • Monument complexes
  • Islands
  • Sea
  • Tidal routes


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