The Crossiecrown settlement – part two
‘More than a dwelling’
By Sigurd Towrie
(Part one here)
Parallels with Barnhouse and the Ness of Brodgar hint that the Crossiecrown “double-house” was more than a dwelling. The quality of the internal stonework, the deposited artefacts and the fact the Red House had been “decorated” suggests we have another example of a “big house” – a structure with “enhanced ancestral significance and status”. 
Evidence from the Ness of Brodgar complex suggests that it was a meeting place and it may be that Crossiecrown had a similar role.
That was the conclusion reached by Andrew Jones, who felt the double-house marked “Crossiecrown out as a focal settlement for the region, around which several groups of people gathered, just as the double-hearth house at Barnhouse in the centre of Mainland Orkney was used as a gathering place”. 
This seems to be borne out by the pottery assemblage, which suggested large-scale communal consumption. 
But despite the similarities to other sites there is one major difference – Crossiecrown’s double house was much later than the examples from Barnhouse and the Ness of Brodgar. At Barnhouse, House Two was abandoned, along with the surrounding dwellings, around 2900BC. 
Crossiecrown’s Red House, however, was constructed around 2900BC and remained in use, albeit with periods of modification and alteration, until c.2300BC – long after existing evidence suggests that the known settlement sites around the Ness of Brodgar had gone out of use. 
The final phase of occupation at Crossiecrown was revealed in a shallow hollow dug into earlier midden deposits.
The sub-oval depression measured c.7m by 4m and was up to 0.3m deep. Excavated features encountered, together with late Grooved Ware and Beaker pottery and radiocarbon dates (1960–1740BC) suggested it represented the remains of a Bronze Age turf-and-timber building. 
As we have seen at Neolithic settlement sites across Orkney, and the Ness of Brodgar in particular, the importance of place seems to have been paramount when it came to buildings.
We see this manifested in the dismantling of the old (dead?) building before the new is raised on the same spot.
In some cases, e.g. the Ness of Brodgar, the importance of re-using a site seems to have taken precedence over any requirement/desire for structural stability. Add the reincorporation of material from earlier buildings and we see thoughts of stability, identity and perhaps permanence coming to the fore.
The new building, by occupying the space of its predecessor(s) and incorporating elements of it into its fabric, was perhaps a tangible, and visible, link to the past and its people.
Underlying the new structure was a metaphorical connection to the occupants’ forebears, perhaps not only emphasising their continuity, but place in society and the landscape.
Although there was no doubt the settlement had a long history of occupation, the relationship between the fragmentary remains was difficult to unpick. The reason for this was simple – the “complete demolition of buildings and the recycling of stone”:
In other words, episodes in which the entire site was levelled and reconstructed.
Excavating in the 1920s, Childe suggested something similar for Skara Brae, but this was criticised by Professor Colin Richards in the early 1990s:
At Crossiecrown, however, it seems this is exactly what was happening. Or at the very least the site was repeatedly, and frequently, subjected to “episodes of substantial, if not total, rebuilding”. 
Was Crossiecrown continually occupied for c.1,500 years?
Or was occupation disjointed, as suggested by the fact that “particular phases” appeared “to concur with discontinuities in material culture”? 
So, it seems that rather than episodic use, in which a return to the site was marked by the dismantling of earlier structures, the sequence at Crossiecrown relates to buildings being dismantled and replaced after their life.
The suggested Orkney-wide disjuncture in settlement around 2800BC  and final abandonment of nucleated villages around 2500BC does not seem to have impacted activity at Crossiecrown. That said, we are again looking at a single area of a wider landscape – although the excavators discounted a shift in settlement. 
Although the condition of the remains makes it impossible to produce a fine-grained biography of Crossiecrown, what it beyond doubt is that the site was a focus of activity for at least 1,500 years. Barnhouse, in comparison, had a lifespan of four centuries.
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-  Ordnance Survey Name Books. Orkney: Kirkwall and St Ola – Volume 12. https://scotlandsplaces.gov.uk/digital-volumes/ordnance-survey-name-books/orkney-os-name-books-1879-1880/orkney-volume-12/3
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-  Richards, C. (1991) Skara Brae: revisiting a Neolithic village in Orkney. In W. S. Hanson and E. A. Slater (eds) Scottish Archaeology: new perceptions, Aberdeen University Press, Aberdeen, 24–43.