ritual focuses attention by framing; it enlivens the memory and links the present with the relevant past. in all this it aids perception. (douglas 1966: 65)
timber constructions in scotland including cursus monuments, mortuary enclosures, timber halls, cremation pyres and other forms of enclosure. they have been interpreted in different ways. cursus monuments, for example, have been related to the symbolism of water (brophy 2000). mortuary enclosures, as the name implies with the rituals of burial.
they were all rectangular in shape and constructed of massive oak timbers and nearly all were burnt down at the end of their lives, whether it was a timber hall or cremation pyre. (barclay and maxwell 1991). they are part of a wider european tradition of burnt neolithic structures that includes earlier neolithic houses in ireland and some of the structures under long barrows in england and wales. burning as a way of imbedding memory of people, places and events.
significantly they draw on the image of the house and seem to be distributed on the eastern and southern ares of scotland and have consistent radio-carbon dates of between 4000 and 3600BC. although not restricted to scotland, the burning of a number of neolithic timber monuments in the southwest of scotland has been highlighted by julian thomas.
at holywood north, timber posts revetted a bank that had been made inside a substantial ditch (thomas 2000: 81) (below). soon after completion the posts of the enclosure were set alight and the structure burnt. the firing resulted in the complete destruction of the monument. burnt posts were also found inside the nearby cursus at holywood north (thomas 1999c: 113).
at claish farm, stirling, a massive timber building was also burnt down on at least one occasion (barclay et al. 2002). traces of intense burning were found in many of the post-pipes of the building, the burning having penetrated to the very bases of the posts in some instances. most of the postholes indicated two phases of burning, suggesting the structure was burnt, rebuilt or repaired and burnt again. the intensity of the burning seems to indicate that the structure was a roofed building, the roofing and walling providing fuel for the fire (barclay et al. 2002: 98). the posts of the building were all made of oak (miller and ramsay 2002: 95). source: gordon noble, neolithic scotland timber, stone, earth and fire. 2006.
the enclosure at Holywood North. a ditch and a setting of posts defined this site. circles enclose some of the features that were probably earlier than the enclosure source: thomas 1999