Bringing Order to Chaos

Like polar bears hibernating in their snowy dens throughout the winter the Tracing the Lines team have spent most of the past two months hidden from view in a small office somewhere in deepest Yorkshire! There comes a time in every research project when data needs to be pulled together so that some sort of sense may emerge, and the moment is fast approaching when Mike and Claire can once again surface – blinking in the sunlight -from the dark cave that has, for the past few months, constituted the Tracing the Lines office, hopefully having brought some sort of order to the mass of pots, sites and radiocarbon dates that has constituted the basis of their lives for much of the past year.

Tracing the Lines researcher Mike Copper enjoys a cup of tea while contemplating a new line in Grooved Ware-themed wallpaper!

Throughout 2017 the main focus of the project has been on the compilation of a database of Scottish Grooved Ware pottery together with the identification of Grooved Ware pots bearing preserved organic residues suitable for radiocarbon dating. Despite initial concerns that previous generations of archaeologists may have scrubbed all traces of preserved residue off the pots in an attempt to make them suitable for display to the public, an encouragingly large number of the vessels identified in museum basements across Scotland has proven to have potentially datable material still adhering. In addition, work undertaken by Mike Copper in 2017 has led to the recognition of well over a hundred separate Grooved Ware find-spots within the project’s study area. These have been entered into a database alongside information about each find and a list of associated radiocarbon dates that already exist, all of which will be made available to researchers as part of the project’s final output.

Making sense of all this is, however, somewhat more tricky. The influential archaeologist David Clarke once said that ‘Archaeology… is the discipline with the theory and practice for the recovery of unobservable hominid behaviour patterns from indirect traces in bad samples‘, and this certainly applies to British prehistory! Trying to understand the nature and development of Grooved Ware means paying very close attention to its depositional context and being extremely picky when it comes to the use of radiocarbon dates: just because a piece of wood found in the same pit as a pot dates to 2700 BC doesn’t necessarily mean that the pot does! As such, the next couple of months will see the focus of the project shift to careful analysis, to be followed by interpretation and the writing of articles reporting on the project’s findings. All of which means that it’s back to the den for Mike and Claire!