“The urge to build: invariant & canonical forms – pathways to decomposition” by Dr John Barber
Exploring the role of instinct and instinctual behaviours in building as a counterbalance to the social determinism of many current narratives; the forms of categorisation used in archaeological and architectural studies are considered, distinguishing between abstract narratives and real-world observations. Strongly canonical monument forms are not only constrained in their original design, but also influence the nature of their subsequent anthropic modifications and predetermines some pathways to decomposition, while ensuring that the form of the original structure may be discernible even following millennia of use and abuse of the monument. Finally, some technical issues affecting drystone building are introduced and the relationship between the concepts of monumentality and engineering efficiency are discussed.
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 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.
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.