Prehistoric Scotland: Mesolithic Era

Prehistoric Scotland: Mesolithic Era

Primordial Scotland
3,300 million years ago - two million years ago.

3,300 million years ago
First rocks begin to form in Scotland.

1,800 million years ago
Scotland's oldest fossil is dated to this period.

570 million years ago
Cambrian Period belonging to the geologic time, system of rocks, and sedimentary deposits of the first period of the Paleozoic Era, characterized by warm seas and desert land areas. In Scotland - Trilobites found.

510 million years ago
Ordovician Period - First corals and graptolites

438 million years ago
Silurian Period - Jawless fish appear. Scotland collides with England as the land masses shift.

410 million years ago
Devonian Period - Fish with armoured heads. Lava flows form the Ochil Hills.

355 million years ago
Carboniferous Period - Sharks, amphibians, water scorpions, crinoids and coal swamps. Arthur's Seat (near Edinburgh, was once an active volcano) erupts.

290 million years ago Permian Period - Seventh and last period of the Paleozoic Era. Trilobites and many other species become extinct. Desert conditions in Scotland.

250 million years ago
Triassic Period - Desert conditions continue in Scotland.

205 million years ago
Jurassic Period - Warm shallow seas with ammonites, bivalves, ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. The time of the great land dinosaurs.

135 million years ago
Cretaceous Period - the third and last period of the Mesozoic Era, characterized by the development of flowering plants and the disappearance of dinosaurs.

65 million years ago
Tertiary Period - Extinction of the dinosaurs. Volcanic eruptions in Skye, Arran, Ardnamurchan and Rum.

2 million years ago
Quaternary Period - Ice Ages, small mammals appear, woolly mammoths and finally humans as we know then today. ---

Mesolithic Scotland

MESOLITHIC AGE - the cultural period of the Stone Age between the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages, marked by the appearance of the bow and cutting tools. Man seems to make his appearance in Scotland during this era. (c.8000 b.c - 4000 b.c)

Hunter-gatherer groups entered Scotland from about 7,000 BCE and found a large variety of habitats in which to live. Remains of camp-sites are rare, Morton in Fife and another on the River Lussa being two examples. More on Lussa later.

During this era were the first people to inhabit Scotland. We can only surmise why groups of primitive Stone Age people moved into Scotland: probably moving northwards from southern Britain. The reason for this seems to be the steady rises in ocean levels (all over the world at this time), which made Britain an island circa 5500 BCE. This gradually forced - north and west - those living on the coastal plains now submerged beneath the sea (the North Sea).

Also by moving northwards, the shorelines were much less likely to flood and with temperature increasing over the next centuries, the virgin and fertile territory of Scotland provided early people with what they needed for survival.

The subsequent afforestation and general warming led to animals, such as reindeer, mammoth, bison, eventually being replaced by woodland species such as red deer and wild boar. This provided ample food for the small numbers of early Man in Mesolithic Scotland. A population figure of about 30,000 people living in Britain at this time has been suggested. [Anderson, A.O., Early Sources of Scottish History]. This is highly subjective guesswork, but if true they were obviously not of one group or tribe. More likely, they were divided into family groups of 2-25 people. Recent archaeological evidence of Mesolithic shelters and burial sites support this. In Scotland itself, the figures are considerably smaller being suggested at 250-500 individuals. Of course this figure is just as subjective as the total British population given above. But keep in mind that the population was indeed growing.

This culture existed for about 2000 years (as long as the Christian era), during which there were developments and changes in lifestyle. We know they possessed fire because charcoal (which was carbon-dated) and pyrite (used to make sparks) have been found inn these small settlements.

The most important remains from Mesolithic Britain are the tools. Tools of flint, (in Scotland, hard igneous and metamorphic rock) are common. Also, bone, shaped chipped stone tools, harpoons, spears and some arrowheads have been discovered.

But in Scotland, Mesolithic Man was not yet a farmer. They were hunter-gatherers surviving on the wild animals; fruits, berries, and shell-clad creatures that could so easily be caught in nets of hemp or similar plant materials. Heaps of discarded shells near Man's places of habitation show that crabs, oysters, and easily collected limpets were a mainstay of their diet. A great example of this is at Caisteal nan Gillean on Oronsay. A midden (a refuse heap) dating from about 5000 BCE of 30 metres in diameter is filled with millions of shells and bones over four feet deep! Fish and often seal remains have also been found.

At Lussa, the camp contained stone rings approximately 1.5m in diameter and may be the oldest stone structures in Scotland.

Artifacts from the site included microliths, burins and chisels. Food remains found were various bones, limpet shells, hazlenut shells and the flint artifacts suggest that hunting and preparation of skins occured here.

The islands of the west of Scotland have also provided evidence of mesolithic habitation, as mentioned earlier, large shell mounds have been discovered - six shell-middens are known on Oronsay [see above] and these can reach 30m in diameter and 3.5m in depth. Artifacts from Oronsay include various stone tools, fish hooks, awls and harpoon heads of chisled stone.

Although there were undoubtledly small skirmishes between rival groups dating to this period, ancient man generally avoided direct conflicts with other groups unless there was a scarcity of food, water or land.

Many of these early camps were only used seasonally and with the coming of the Neolithic Age, farming became the usual way of life for the people inhabiting Scotland.

Next in Prehistoric Scotland, the Neolithic Age in Scotland.

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    Primary Sources:
    [Alrock, L., Britain: History and Archaeology]
    [Anderson, A.O., Early Sources of Scottish History, Vol1]
    [Burl, A., Prehistoric Stone Circles]
    [Renfrew, C., British Prehistory]
    [Gunn, R.M., Scottish Origins]
    [Stewart R., Prehistoric Scotland]
    [Feacham, R.W., Guide to Prehistoric Scotland]

    İSkye-Net, R. Gunn, 1999/2003

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