The Age system

Dividing time

Prehistoric Orkney Timeline


Archaeologists and historians divide and label prehistory into manageable chunks, organising the past into “ages”:

These handy boxes use artefacts and technology to label time periods. So the Mesolithic, for example, is typified by the development and use of microliths (small flint blades) while the Iron Age is represented by the advent and use of iron.

While these labels are useful reference terms, they can mask the extensive time periods involved. In addition, they give the impression there were nice, neat dividing lines between these “ages” that are not necessarily borne out by the archaeological evidence.

The Neolithic, for example, did not just suddenly end and everybody switched to the trappings of the Bronze Age. The transitions were gradual – perhaps taking many centuries – and varied in different areas. In England, the Iron Age is said to end with the arrival of the Romans in AD43. In Orkney, however, it continues until the arrival of the vikings in the ninth century.