What if some of the inhabitants of Britain, during the period of time known as the Neolithic, lived in the trees? Now i have no direct conclusive evidence for this as there aren’t any Neolithic trees around anymore. But i can still give weight to this hypothesis with theoretical evidence based upon what we know and what we can deduce by using certified archaeological principles… (And no… this isn’t another quantum theory post where i get the wrong end of the stick… and have to put an update too i’m a trained archaeologist… i know what i’m talking about… and there are theories about Stonehenge that hold less water than this!)
Lets start by establishing what we definately know about the Neolithic in britain:
-Neolithic refers to the later period of what is collectively called ‘The Stone Age’
-It lasted from C. 4000 to 2500 BC
– It saw the development of agriculture and farming across the country.
– The first big stone monuments such as chambered tombs, passage tombs and stone circles (yes… like Stonehenge… (Rolls eyes)) were constructed at this time.
– More advanced and technologically skilled stone tools were developed.
Right… all well and good. But what about where they lived? What were they doing? What about their houses? Well, we know they were farming so they must have had a sedentary lifestyle. The people of Britain went from being nomadic Hunter Gatherers in the Mesolitic to settled farmers in the Neolithic. So surely there is plenty of evidence of where they were living…
Errr… well… i’m very sorry because this is kind of embarassing… but there isn’t. Well there is… but not a lot. Proper ‘Houses’ as we would refer to them have been predominatly found in the Orkney Isles (where there aren’t any trees) and Scotland. These are made of Stone and are Round… like at Skara Brae (It’s famous… look it up!) In fact there are loads in Scotland… round, stone houses! But once you go south of the border the houses that exist are wooden and rectangular. Completely different… but there is strong evidence to suggest that they were houses. There are also some houses in North West Wales and on Anglesey but these are few in number. I’d also like to point out that neolithic houses are widespread WIDESPREAD across Europe and that it’s only in England and Wales where these houses DON’T APPEAR TO FUCKING EXIST! You could argue that people were living in Crannog type structures… but why then is there only one example in the British Isles south of the scottish border? (At Llangorse in Wales if you’re interested). Even if the structures were made of wood, or burnt or simply rotted THERE WOULD BE EVIDENCE. But there isn’t. There just isn’t. Even the most wooden of buildings leaves a mark… and we have other wooden Neolithic Structures. We know they were Farming so where were they living? From the number of houses found in England and Wales there were about 20 people living in the entire country… but we know that just isn’t true.
What if they were living in temporary structures? Like during the Mesolithic… or perhaps they were still being nomadic and tending any bit of cultivated land they came across like wandering farmers… Even temporary structures leave a mark… and what sort of mad cuckoo idea is that of a wandering farmer? (You might find it more believable than what i have to come… hang on…)
So lets presume that they were sedentary and farming, numbered more than twenty and weren’t living in tents. Where were they living? There is only one plausible solution i can see and one slightly implausible one. The implausible one is that all the houses are under modern settlement. I can’t see this being the case as that would be a massive, MASSIVE coincidence. Plus we’d still have found more houses than we have done. So where were they?
What about in the trees? I know it sounds absurd, especially considering everybody else in Europe was living on the ground… but think about it. Britain is by this point an Island. There is definately trade going on but to what extent we don’t know. Plus the English Channel can be a bit of a bitch at times. So the chances of there being a differnce of ideas is strong. Ahhh… but what about Scotland? Orkney has no trees… remeber that… Orkney has no trees. And let us not forget that there has been evidence of Neolithic Houses found… although the total number of residents living on the ground ammounts to about 20 people.
‘But there are no Neolithic Trees!!!’ i hear you cry. ‘You have no evidence!’ No direct evidence certainly, but theoretical evidence i have aplenty…
1) Absence of Evidence is Not Evidence of Absence
This phrase has been drummed into me since i were a mere college student researching industrial canals and getting lost. I remember once that i came across a wonderful tea shop where they served the most delicious of scones. They were so delicious that by the time they were finished there was not a crumb left on the plate. There was an absence of evidence that the scones had ever been on that plate. But just because there is no proof they were ever there doesn’t mean to say that they weren’t. Right? Basically, what i’m trying to say is just because we have no definitive proof that something exists does not necesserily mean it didn’t. (Yes… this is really a genuine Archaeological theory) What i’m saying is that just because there are no Neolithic trees and no conclusive evidence to prove that people were living in them doesn’t mean they weren’t utilized as dwellings in some way.
Of course, we can also use this theory to argue that just because we have scant evidence of Neolithic Houses in England and Wales, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. This certainly holds more water but i would like to point to the fact that Neolithic Houses have been found elsewhere… so why not in England and Wales?
Of course you can also use this theory to argue for the existence of practically anything!
2) Stone was for the Dead, Wood was for the Living
This is a theory that was proposed a few years ago (i forget who by… might have been Mike Parker Pearson but i could be mistaken on that front) and it states that the Neolithic People believed that stone represented the dead and wood the living. They cite the connection between Durrington Walls and Stonehenge (with funerary processions between the two representing the passage from life to death). It is based on beliefs held in Madagascar of a similar nature. I’d reccomend you read this article to understand it better:
Of course, this could have just been a ritual thing and representative of the living and the dead. Well yes, it’s more than possible. But let’s not forget that the distance between Modern Madagascar and Neolithic England traverses both time and space! Just because something is true of modern madagascar doesn’t mean to say that it was exactly the same in Neolithic Britain. And who knows if it even was the same. Well there are similarities… so maybe they had similar beliefs. Wood grows and can be warm and alive… Stone meanwhile is always dead and cold. What if they had a slight difference though… what if they also believed that the Ground was representative of the dead (and stone) and the air was representative of the living (makes sense considering we need air to live!) Surely they knew that if you stopped someone or something from breathing they died. Hence what if it was their ritual belief in reserving the ground for the dead that drove them to live in the trees? Well that brings me onto my next point:
3) They didn’t think like we Do
Archaeologists have an annoying tendency to put a modern perception on the evidence they are finding. They think just because we live on the ground and swim in lakes and are really prudent about sex (well… archaeology is really prudent on sexual issues and refuses to admit when a stone age dildo is a stone age dildo: http://www.livescience.com/9971-stone-age-carving-ancient-dildo.html
There is no evidence to say they thought the same as we do. They could have had some really odd reason for living in the trees… like being afraid of what their crops would do to them at night when they weren’t watching (OMG… Neolithic Day of the Triffids) My point is we don’t know what they thought without taking a guess based on a modern perception. We can’t say for certain (unless someone invents an Animus) that they did believe the ground was the land of the dead? But then again they might have done… Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence… right? BINGO! So whilst throughout British History everybody has lived on the ground, who’s to say there weren’t a few hundred years where this wasn’t the case?
4) The Enduring Human Fascination with Treehouses and Trees
The Queen became Queen in a Treehouse in Kenya. It’s still there… an entire tree top hotel. And there are loads more around the globe. Remember the Ewoks in Star Wars? Where did they live again… oh yeah… in the trees. Avatar? In the trees! And let’s not forget that every child growing up wants a tree house or wants to climb into a tree… and some adults want that as well. What Father wouldn’t like to build their child a treehouse? (Ok… mine… but he was never my real father anyway…) What i’m saying is that there seems to be some inbuilt fascination that humanity has for trying to get up into the trees. It’s inexplicable. Every day, every moment that passes everywhere across the globe, some child tries to climb a tree. It’s like a deep rooted homogenous instinct that we must get off the ground. Like it’s safer in the trees. This is probably a weird genetic throwback to our distant tree living ape like ancestors… we know that, but did the people of Neolithic England? (Neolithic theory of evolution anyone?) Well they didn’t think like we do… what if they acted on instinct? What if they thought… ‘YES… WE WILL BE SAFER IN THE TREES… LET US BUILD HOUSES IN THE TREES’ Or something to that effect.
Ok… you’ll agree my evidence for Neolithic People living in trees is scant and based on: Few houses, a theory that can be used to prove anything and several presumptions with little proof. It’s probably fair to say that it isn’t true and they were living in houses… we just haven’t found them.
However… i have one more piece of evidence to share with you… i give you…
5) The Korowai People
Yes… that is a tribe in Papua New Guinea that lives in Tree Houses. If Lewis Binford can make presumptions based on the activities of a bunch of Eskimos then i can make similar ethnographical presumptions. According to the wikipedia article (Shock Horror… i’m using Wikipedia. It’s not like it’s the end of the world) They live like this to escape floods, insects and rival tribes… and Arson. Could they be similar reasons to why Neolithic People could have lived in trees? Perhaps there was a bit of an Arson problem in Neolithic Britain?
But of course, Neolithic People most likely didn’t live in trees… though i still maintain there are theories about Stonehenge that hold less water than this. (Giant rotating Death Ray for instance!)