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2018 Rhind Lecture 5: “Full fathom five; the repair, rebuild, reuse and abuse of brochs”

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

“Full fathom five; the repair, rebuild, reuse and abuse of brochs” by Dr John Barber

Gurness and Midhowe exemplify the scale of modification of broch towers and their chimerical nature as excavated for public presentation will be laid out. Thrumster broch will present evidence of sequential and significant re-modelling over time, paralleled elsewhere, and the broch at Clachtoll was probably abandoned before the mid first century BC by which time it had already undergone at least one, and probably more, significant structural failure episodes. Despite the observed high levels of mutation and destruction, it can be confidently argued that the original monuments have been constrained in their scales and their form almost unswerving from a ‘standard model’ updated for this study. The consequences of the complex diachronic nature of these monuments present particular difficulties for their interpretation, conservation and presentation, some of which will be exemplified from current work.

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.