Island archaeologies and the conundrum(s) of ‘insular connectivity’

Duncan Garrow, University of Reading

This talk will explore the seemingly contradictory notion of ‘insular connectivity’ in relation to a series of different islands, located around mainland Britain, during the Mesolithic and Neolithic. Islands in the past were, of course, often highly connected, and this connectivity was key to their identity, yet island populations regularly did things their own way as well. This double-edged trait often leads to apparent contradictions and complexity in the prehistoric record. Exploring a series of examples encountered over the course of island-focused research in recent years, some of these archaeological conundrums will be outlined, considering the role that ‘insular connectivity’ plays and how it is manifested in island material cultures.

Duncan Garrow teaches European later prehistory (with a particular focus on Britain) and archaeological theory at the University of Reading. His research interests include long-term histories of deposition, burial practices and material culture, and island archaeologies.

Modes of transport in coastal and island communities of the west coast

 Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh

Settlement of coastal regions and islands and the exploitation of maritime resources are strongly affected by available boat technology. Vernacular boat types, including modified forms of non-indigenous types, are shaped to respond to specific environmental conditions and economic imperatives. Forms of transport are dependent on the material culture and technological expertise of a given community, but external factors such as capital investment in local infrastructure or distance from markets also play a role.

Of necessity, island culture closely corresponds to that of the mainland: islands may be seen as extensions of coastal communities, having tangible and intangible cultural elements in common. In historic times, many island settlements started out as places where livestock was grazed for the benefit of a landowner, managed by just a few individuals, in time acquiring the status of a distinct community. In the nineteenth century especially, the merits of island living included not only greater proximity to hunting and fishing grounds but also their potential to act as refuges for the dispossessed.

Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh is director of the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. His research interests include the study of vernacular boats, fishing and settlement patterns in Atlantic island and coastal communities.


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