Stepping stones to the Neolithic. Islands, maritime connectivity and the ‘western seaways’ of Britain, 5000-3500 BC
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Liverpool
Unit of AssessmentGeography, Environmental Studies and Archaeology
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Earth Sciences: Geology
History and Archaeology: Archaeology
Summary of the impact
Garrow's Stepping Stones project is investigating the spread of
the Neolithic via the islands of the `western seaways', including
Guernsey, Scilly Isles and South Uist. This research, which is ongoing,
has already had direct impact on:
- Museums on those islands, where a series of exhibitions and open days
relating to the project have increased public interest in the museums
and provided increased knowledge of collections to the curators;
- Schools and teachers who have benefitted from the creation of
completely new resources supporting prehistory teaching, a previously
- The general public, increasing knowledge of the significance of local
heritage and prehistory; and
- Public policy makers, informing historic environment management plans
and coastal heritage development and protection planning and policies.
The Stepping Stones project was a collaboration between Liverpool
and Southampton led by Garrow (employed Liverpool until September 2013)
and Sturt (Southampton). It is investigating the Mesolithic-Neolithic
transition on the islands around the southern, western and northern coasts
of Britain in order to understand the maritime spread of the Neolithic and
the role of seafaring in this process. The project results are feeding
into a broader body of research concerned with connections between Britain
and continental Europe in prehistory. The project has been running since
2008 and will last until 2014. Garrow and Sturt have been lecturers at
Liverpool and Southampton respectively over the whole duration of this
project in the REF impact census period.
The project has excavated 3 Neolithic sites on Guernsey, Scilly Isles and
South Uist. The results from those excavations are being combined with a
database of all known Mesolithic and Neolithic activity within the western
seaways zone. A major programme of C14 dating is underway to date the
arrival of the Neolithic in those areas. A new programme of oceanographic
modelling has established the locations of 5th and 4th
millennia coastlines and provides a better understanding of the nature of
sea-faring at those periods as well as a broader reconstruction of
coastlines from 11000 BP to the present.
Garrow and Sturt directed excavation of a 5th millennium BC
settlement site at L'Eree, Guernsey, 2008-2011. Post-excavation analysis
of the site is now close to completion. This project revealed only the
second extensively excavated Neolithic settlement site in the Channel
Islands. It provided new evidence for the arrival of the Neolithic in
Guernsey, and several suitable samples for radiocarbon dating (to help
establish when this occurred). Excavation of an early 4th to 3rd
millennium BC settlement site in South Uist, Outer Hebrides (June-July
2012) was also undertaken by Garrow and Sturt. Post-excavation analysis of
the site occurred over the year following. This project revealed an
important Neolithic settlement site, adding to the previous scant evidence
and retrieved samples for radiocarbon dating (to help establish when the
Neolithic arrived in this region).
To date research findings include the production of new sea level models
for the UK. Incorporating new data from across the earth and ocean
sciences, these represent by far the highest resolution models produced
until now. Importantly, they reveal the character of the sea around
Britain and Ireland (especially within the island groups which form the
focus of the Stepping Stones project) during the 5th
and 4th millennia, enabling new understanding of the conditions
under which the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition occurred in this key zone.
A paper is now published on this aspect of the project (open access), and
the sea level modelling results have been made freely available via the
and via the Archaeology Data Service; they are also visible as .kmz files
which can be viewed via Google Earth.
References to the research
Garrow, D. & Sturt, F. in press. The Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
in the Channel Islands: maritime and terrrestrial perspectives. In T.
Darvill & A. Sheridan (eds) Hands across the water: the
archaeology of the cross-channel Neolithic. London: British Academy.
[Submitted October 2012, due out 2014]
Garrow, D. & Sturt, F. 2011. Grey waters bright with Neolithic
argonauts? Maritime connections and the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition
within the `western seaways' of Britain, c. 5000-3500 BC. Antiquity
The primary project grant from the AHRC was awarded to Duncan Garrow (at
Liverpool): Stepping stones to the Neolithic Islands, maritime
connectivity and the `western seaways' of Britain, 5000- 3500 BC. This
grant runs from June 2011 to September 2014. The total value is £199,938
Details of the impact
The beneficiaries of Stepping Stones are 1) local museums
on/concerned with the islands where the excavations occur, 2) the general
public, 3) UK schools and teachers, 4) government/public sector policy
makers. 1-3 have developed impact as of the end July census date. 4 has
had initial impact with more substantive impacts planned to occur
following the census date.
Context: English Heritage's Research Strategy for Prehistory
states that "prehistory is poorly understood among the British public in
comparison to other historical periods", highlighting the All- Party
Parliamentary Archaeology Group's 2003 report which severely criticised
the "neglect" of prehistory within the UK's school curricula. In response
to these issues, EH's strategy highlights the need for "displays, web
resources, community projects and other outreach initiatives to do with
prehistory ... in order to engage new audiences and provide teachers with
what they need". The first three pathways to impact have provided a set of
resources which have benefitted the museums, schools and the wider public
in exactly these ways, with impact continuing well beyond the REF impact
The strategy for project impact involves 4 distinct pathways aimed at
- New museum displays.
- Public participation in excavations and media attention to them.
- Innovative web-based learning resources aimed primarily at school
- Creation of new knowledge to inform government/public sector policy.
1. The local museums with which this project works include the Museum nan
Eilean [Museum of the Western Isles], the Isles of Scilly Museum, and
Guernsey Museums and Galleries. Each has hosted a locally relevant
`western seaways' exhibition of the Stepping Stones project's work
and results, set in a broader context. These displays were largely
designed and delivered by the Stepping Stones team, who enhanced
the prehistory content of these museums significantly as a result. The
Museum nan Eilean exhibition was held at the Sgoil Lionacleit, Benbecula
site from 1st June - 30th August 2012. The Guernsey
Museum display, from 27th August - 17th September
2011, had 2,639 visitors in August and 1,626 in September 2011 indicating
how the active projects associated with these exhibitions stimulated an
interest in the islands' heritage and museums. These are two-part
displays, one detailing the broader project and major issues involved in
the research, the other focusing directly on each specific island group.
The project also includes the analysis and publication of artefact
collections previously recovered from each site; this has added
considerably to curatorial expertise on existing museum resources. The
museum curators attest to the way in which the displays, in drawing on a
`live' excavation and current research project,brought a fresh,
contemporary feel to each museum and significantly enhanced their
resources for reaching the public. The museums have also acknowledged the
substantive development of the knowledge base that underpins their
2. The project's most immediate impact has occurred during the course of
excavations, which has involved a broad cross-section of the local
community. There have also been 5 general talks for the public in other
parts of the UK. For each site, there has been an Open Day and public
lecture. At L'Eree, 11th September 2011, 180 people visited,
including 20 members of Junior Société Guernesiaise. On 14th
July 2012 an Open Day on site at An Doirlinn was attended by 60 people.
The museum talks in relation to these seasons had audiences of c. 90.In
hosting these events, the project engages the general public in aspects of
their island's cultural heritage, so contributing to their knowledge and
quality of life. Members of local amateur archaeology societies have been
invited to take part in the excavations, providing them with an
opportunity to develop archaeological skills and experience, and to share
their ideas and expertise with the project. Feedback, in the form of
questionnaire responses from the talks and Open Days, has been good. In 26
questionnaires collected from the public on Uist in 2012, over 70%
indicated that their knowledge of regional prehistory, of the appearance
of the Neolithic, and of prehistory in general was transformed by the Open
Day and briefing events. Media interest has also been strong, providing a
further channel for dissemination and impact. Media reports include:
TV and Radio:
Wednesday 31st August 2011- 3 minute appearance on the Jim Cathcart
morning show, BBC Radio Guernsey. 22,000 listeners per week.
26th September 2011 4.20 pm - BBC Radio Solent.
Tuesday 10th July 2012, 8pm - 2 min report (with interview) on
our excavations at An Doirlinn on BBC Alba TV news (the BBC's Gaelic
channel average audience of 50,000)
Monday 16th July 2012 - 2 min TV report on the `Frankenstein
mummies from Cladh Hallan' also included a piece on our excavations at An
Doirlinn and an interview with Fraser Sturt on STV
Saturday 3rd September 2011 - half-page article in The Guernsey Press.
The Guernsey Press has a daily circulation of more than 16,000, and
is read by some 38,000 people every day, more than 80% of the island's
23 September 2011 - Article
about the project as whole in The Independent
24th September 2011 Financial Times, general article.
Thursday 19th July 2012 - half-page article summarising the results of the
project in the Stornoway Gazette (weekly circulation of c
February, April and August 2012 Island News & Advertiser
(monthly paper for Harris and the Uists) articles.
The reach of the public engagement aspect of the project through its web
and social media presence and responses to blogs is fast growing. To date
there have been 3,260 hits/views of the project Youtube video and blogs
about the project. There are 4,303 Twitter and Facebook
followers/subscribers of project related accounts/blogs. There have been
207 likes/recommendations on Facebook and other related media.
3. The project has allocated a significant tranche of its resources
towards the construction of an innovative set of educational web-based
resources. These are open-access and fully sustainable after the end of
the project. Importantly, since the project deals not just with
archaeology (in a narrow sense) but with subjects such as migration and
climate change, these will be of continuing relevance right across the
school curriculum and beyond.
Each of the three content areas have drawn directly on the project's
findings; there is a direct and meaningful relationship between the
products of the academic research and the public impacts. This includes
considerable use of the comprehensive application programmer's interface
(API) available within Google Earth. Google Earth is an extremely popular
and easy to use application which is also available as a `plugin' enabling
the program to be incorporated into a webpage.
The 3 elements include A) A
project website acting as a central hub from which users are
directed to all of the resources available. In addition to the
introductory front page, this has island- and site- specific pages,
providing information about the excavations (including videos, captioned
photos of key features, etc.), details of other sites nearby (drawn from
the project database), announcements about Open Days and public lectures.
Also analysed is the number of hits on each of the webpages to determine
the popularity of the constituent parts of the site.
B) A `western seaways' navigation game in development. Users choose (a)
departure and arrival locations, (b) the type of prehistoric boat they
want to travel in, and (c) the season; they will then be able to see if
they end up in the right place, and how long it takes to get there. The
palaeo- oceanographic models produced as a result of the research are
combined with these input parameters to generate a Google Earth `tour'.
The tour will then be imported into the Google Earth plugin in the website
and displayed as a 3D journey. This will give children (and others) a fun
angle on prehistoric seafaring, making them aware of genuine past maritime
C) A set of chronologically animated Google Earth overlays, enabling
users to visualise changing sea levels in the past, and to locate specific
Mesolithic/Neolithic sites (and even their own houses) in relation to
these. A number of overlays are already available which help users to
appreciate how sea level change will affect the planet in future. Outputs
from the research were used to generate the overlay frames at given
moments in time. In focusing on change in the prehistoric past, the model
provides an important deep-time context for modern and future
environmental change. Together, these outputs represent an exciting and
significant set of new educational web resources, focusing on the
prehistoric past. In order to maximise their impact potential, they are
advertised via links on other relevant websites. Our project partners also
link to their own webpages. Again, the structure of this element is
tiered, with the local scale of each island group being made clearly
relevant to bigger issues (e.g. sea level change over time). These provide
schools with a new teaching resource.
4. Impact on Government/Public sector policy is a significant goal and
this has commenced although this area requires most development. The
project is working with local and national bodies such as English Heritage
to inform their coastal heritage development and protection planning and
policies. In particular, the project has provided time series
environmental data which can be used by a range of different researchers
and government bodies (climate scientists, English Heritage, Historic
Scotland, local authority coastal planners, etc.). Data collected on the
nature of beach profiles, rates of sedimentation and erosion, along with
changing sea-levels/hydrological conditions, can all be used to inform
coastal management plans, heritage management strategies, sea-level and
climate modelling initiatives.
The initial instances of this impact on public policy are documented in
1) the Isles
of Scilly Historic Environment Research Framework Resource
Assessment and Research Agenda, where Garrow advised on sections
relating to the Neolithic and Early Bronze Age and related research agenda
items. In particular this contributed to Research Agenda items 3, 5, 8,
14-16, 18-20, 20, 27, 30, 45 and 46. 2) The second instance is a
contribution to the States of Guernsey Environment Department, charged
with maintaining the island's coastal defences, where evidence relating to
the specific impact of local sea level changes was utilised.
Sources to corroborate the impact
of Scilly Historic Environment Research Framework.
Resource Assessment and Research Agenda exemplifies the
contribution of Garrow's research to heritage management assessment and
planning. The Senior Archaeologist, Cornwall Council, in a letter
provided corroborates the project's impact on their Historic Environment
resource assessment and creation of a research agenda.
- Museums Development Officer, Museum nan Eilean, Benbecula has
provided a statement to corroborate the impact on the public and museums
in the Outer Hebrides.
- States Archaeologist, Guernsey Museums and Galleries, has provided a
letter corroborating the impact on the public, museums and heritage and
coastal management on Guernsey.
forms from the public lecture in Uist and feedback
forms from the site open day in Uist indicate the transformational
effect on local community's understandings of prehistory.