Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 06-24-2019, 03:40 PM
Broomstick's Avatar
Broomstick is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 28,916

Questions About Neolithic Village Skara Brae


For those of you who don't know Skara Brae is a very, very, very, very, very, very old village in the Orkney Isles, north of Scotland. It's about 4,000-5,000 years old.

Among other features are "stone furniture" that is part of the various structures of the village. Some of it is pretty obvious to me, such as the central hearths and the "dresser" or (to my mind) built in shelf unit. What puzzles me is what are described as "beds". They look like very low stone enclosures to me. Well, for all I know they could have been beds or sleeping areas but they sure look different than what my culture uses as "beds". Also, I have seen references to "paint pots" and "beads" and other items being in some of the "beds" which I also find vaguely puzzling. I mean, sure, I've sat in bed and read a book (although Skara Brae predates books) or done some sort of art project or homework or something, but...

These don't look like beds to me. Do they think some sort of bedding was contained in them? Do they think these structures supported some sort of bedding?

Basically, what makes anthropologist identify these things as "beds"?
  #2  
Old 06-24-2019, 03:58 PM
RickJay is offline
Charter Jays Fan
Moderator
 
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Oakville, Canada
Posts: 41,480
The residents of Skara Brae had essentially no access to wood. Everything had to be made of stone, and you could use plant matter and animal pelts and such to make it softer.

The beds are called that because it makes no sense for them to be anything else. There is nothing else in those houses that looks like a bed. The enclosed nature of them is very likely meant to ward off drafts; Skara Brae was then, as it is now, a cold place.
__________________
Providing useless posts since 1999!

Last edited by RickJay; 06-24-2019 at 03:59 PM.
  #3  
Old 06-24-2019, 04:00 PM
The Stafford Cripps is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 1,333
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
These don't look like beds to me. Do they think some sort of bedding was contained in them? Do they think these structures supported some sort of bedding?

Basically, what makes anthropologist identify these things as "beds"?
I don't know, it's hard to know from pictures how long they were compared with average contemporary human length, but they look to me like they would have been good for preventing all the grass, wool, heather or whatever they slept on from being spread across the floor. They would also have been quite snug - even in the last century people in Orkney and Shetland slept in box beds.

Also, just to mention that in Britain such study is entirely done by archaeologists - anthropology is generally a completely separate discipline.
  #4  
Old 06-24-2019, 04:10 PM
The Stafford Cripps is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 1,333
Box beds would also have made good hiding places for jewelry, or paint that you didn't want a young sibling to get hold of. Beads could fall off necklaces while you slept or had fun and be lost in all the bedding...

Last edited by The Stafford Cripps; 06-24-2019 at 04:12 PM.
  #5  
Old 06-24-2019, 04:47 PM
thorny locust's Avatar
thorny locust is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2019
Location: Upstate New York
Posts: 1,169
Did people at the time use beds only for sleeping, or were they also sitting places and for some kinds of work workplaces while awake? That would certainly explain finding items we don't associate with sleeping in the beds.

Bear in mind that they don't seem to have been working with multiple rooms, chairs, worktables, etc. And I wonder whether the enclosed space wouldn't have been warmer to do fine handwork in, also.

I tried to google this a bit, but don't seem to be able to get the right search terms -- does anybody here know?

-- I'd expect they were filled with something more comfortable to sleep or sit on than stone; but stone lasts, and organic materials usually don't.

I do find it interesting that they're saying the larger bed was for a man and the smaller for a woman, as opposed to thinking the larger was for adults and the smaller for children -- where do they think the children slept?
  #6  
Old 06-24-2019, 05:02 PM
Broomstick's Avatar
Broomstick is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: NW Indiana
Posts: 28,916
The very small children probably slept with mom, as did larger daughters.

The larger sons probably slept with dad.

It's also possible that all female adults (mother, aunts, grandmother or a mother-in-law) slept in one bed and all adult males (father, uncles, grandfather, etc.) in the other, with smallest children with the women and the larger children sorted by gender.

Orkney is a cold place, additional bodywarmth would probably have been welcome. Also, given the harshness of neolithic life in general, near complete lack of anything we'd likely call "medical care", and the hazards of earning a living with stone age tech the attrition rate from birth through adulthood would likely be more than what we are accustomed to in our lives. The village seems to have had only 7 houses and some sort of additional building for... something. Probably no more than 50 people at any one time. Presumably they had contact with other settlements and opportunities for the children to marry out/in from the group as well as replacing and large numbers of lost adults with folks from other places.

I just couldn't work out how you got "bed" from those stone boxy things, but yeah, box bed makes a lot of sense, as does piling soft stuff inside the stone beds.
  #7  
Old 06-24-2019, 05:04 PM
Baron Greenback's Avatar
Baron Greenback is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Scotland
Posts: 11,861
The houses at Skara Brae are quite snug. If the bed-like structures aren't beds, then where did the inhabitants sleep?
  #8  
Old 06-24-2019, 05:06 PM
The Stafford Cripps is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2001
Posts: 1,333
Quote:
Originally Posted by thorny locust View Post

I do find it interesting that they're saying the larger bed was for a man and the smaller for a woman, as opposed to thinking the larger was for adults and the smaller for children -- where do they think the children slept?
That's one guy, in 1974. I suspect other people have other interpretations.
  #9  
Old 06-24-2019, 05:11 PM
Baron Greenback's Avatar
Baron Greenback is offline
Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Scotland
Posts: 11,861
Quote:
Originally Posted by Broomstick View Post
The village seems to have had only 7 houses and some sort of additional building for... something. Probably no more than 50 people at any one time. Presumably they had contact with other settlements and opportunities for the children to marry out/in from the group as well as replacing and large numbers of lost adults with folks from other places.
It's almost certain Orkney had quite a sophisticated society in Neolithic times. The excavations at The Ness of Brodgar
are ongoing, and remarkable. There's a Doper who has participated there, and written about it: Lynne-42
  #10  
Old 06-24-2019, 06:00 PM
Banksiaman is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Australia
Posts: 1,003
Sleeping arrangements differ - ours are not the baseline standard. Go to a village in Southeast Asia and you may have different 'dorm's for men and women, age grades, menstruating women or other combinations. Kids could be cared for collectively or in various other arrangements.

Even 'bed' is a loaded term imposing a bit of projection to an unknowable past. Its probably likely, but archaeologists have to always distinguish the evidence [in this case the stone nooks and associated artefacts] from interpretation. Any other interpretations that also account for all the evidence and plausibly fit into what else we know about Orkneolithic life will merit a consideration. But that's the threshold minimum for alternate explanations - they have to account for all the evidence and fit the context.
  #11  
Old 06-24-2019, 06:14 PM
Miss Mapp's Avatar
Miss Mapp is online now
Member
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Rockville, MD
Posts: 3,159
I was just a Skara Brae a couple of weeks ago. A little distance from the site, close to the Visitors' Centre, there is a replica of what one of the houses would have looked like when people lived in it. They have furs in the box beds to show how they imagined these would have been used.

We were also supposed to visit the site of Brodgar Ness that same day, but the rain was coming down so hard that the site was covered in tarps to protect it. The archeologist who owns the property instead met with our group in an incident trailer next to the house to give us a talk about his work and show us some of the finds. He says that they haven't yet found the extent of that community.
__________________
Miss Elizabeth Mapp might have been forty, and she had taken advantage of this opportunity by being just a year or two older.
- E.F. Benson, "Miss Mapp"
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 08:38 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright 2018 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017