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2018 Rhind Lecture 2: “Corbelling, the horizontal arch and polycope walls”

Dr John Barber presents the second lecture of the 2018 Rhind Lecture series on chambered cairns and brochs.

“Corbelling, the horizontal arch and polycope walls in the construction of loose fill monuments” by Dr John Barber

Addressing the specifics of drystone building, this lecture will first explore the probable commodification of stone during the Neolithic. Using Neolithic chambered cairns it will set out the engineering challenges of constructing chambers and the difficulty of identifying the chronological implications of deformation and evidence for re-construction and later reuses. Monuments, sensu memorialising, as opposed to monumentality, sensu Alois Riegl’s ‘age value’ will be considered. Similarly, the interrelationships of monumentalising and aggrandising, on the one hand, and of canonicity and mutability of the other are further considered.

The 2018 Rhind Lectures, entitled “Drystone technologies: Neolithic tensions and Iron Age compressions” and presented by Dr John Barber MA, BA, FSA, FSA Scot, MCIfA, Chair of AOC Archaeology Group.  Recorded in the National Museums Scotland auditorium at 6pm on 22nd June 2018 by Mallard Productions Ltd. Sponsored by The Antiquary Whisky, Tomatin Distillery Co. Ltd.

The Lectures
The technical engineering capacities of prehistoric builders of large Neolithic and Iron Age structures are intriguing. Invasive introduction has been the favoured explanatory mechanism for structural innovation in these islands, rather than the converse appeal to domestic design genius. However, drystone engineering so constrains the builders’ design ambitions that similar structures result from the limitations of the technology more than from the social interconnections of their builders. These lectures explore the interplay of technological capacity and design freedom in prehistoric Scotland.

The Lecturer
John Barber was born in Cork, Ireland, in 1947 and graduated from University College Cork, before going on to a career in archaeology. He recently graduated with a PhD in Architecture at the University of Edinburgh, building upon two decades of specialist interest in large drystone-built structures in Western Europe in general and the British Isles in particular. Between 1976 and 1992 he worked in what has now become HES before leaving it to found the AOC Archaeology Group, of which he was managing director until 2011. In the recent past he has excavated, mainly for conservation purposes, elements of three Neolithic chambered cairns and was involved in the excavation of five brochs. He is currently involved in the excavation and conservation of brochs like Clachtoll, Castle Grugaig and others. In developing approaches to these monuments, he has also re-constructed cairns and brochs and their compositional elements at scales ranging from 1:50, to 1:1, to study their stability issues and decomposition mechanisms.