Issue: Mesolithic and later sites around the Inner Sounds, Scotland

Subtitle the work of the Scotland's First Settlers project 1998-2004
Publication Type
Abstract Scotland's First Settlers comprised a survey project to locate and examine sites relating to the earliest, Mesolithic, settlement of the Inner Sound, along the coastlands between Skye and the west coast of Scotland. Particular foci of interest included the existence and nature of midden sites, the use of rockshelters and caves, and the different types of lithic raw material in use. In addition, information relating to the human use of the area up to the present day was recorded. Fieldwork took place over five years between 1999 and 2004: the entire coastline of the Inner Sound together with its islands was walked; 129 new archaeological sites were recorded; 36 sites were shovel pitted; 44 test pitted; and one major excavation took place. Excavation at Sand has been particularly exciting as it has resulted in the analysis of a shell midden dating to the early-mid seventh millennium BC, the early Mesolithic of Scotland. This report comprises the results of survey and excavation work as well as detailed artefact reports, full information on ecofacts such as shell, and bone, and information on the development of the landscape and environment, including sea level change. Finally, the broad-scale coverage of the project has led to a number of discussion points that have much to offer further work, both within the area and further afield.<br /><br />Digital material associated with this project is available through <em>Archaeology Data Service</em> (ADS) archive <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.5284/1000285">Scotland's First Settlers</a>.
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Author Rachel Parks
Rachel Parks
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Karen Hardy
Editor Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Publisher Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Other Person/Org Patrick J Ashmore (Author contributing)
Phil Austin (Author contributing)
James H Barrett (Author contributing)
Stuart D Campbell (Author contributing)
Ann Clarke (Author contributing)
Michael Cressey (Author contributing)
Alastair G Dawson (Author contributing)
Susan Dawson (Author contributing)
Kevin J Edwards (Author contributing)
Nyree Finlay (Author contributing)
Fraser Green (Author contributing)
Andrew Heald (Author contributing)
Fraser Hunter (Author contributing)
A Isbister (Author contributing)
Ann MacSween (Author contributing)
L McAllan (Author contributing)
Nicky Milner (Author contributing)
Anthony Newton (Author contributing)
Rick J Schulting (Author contributing)
Robert Shiel (Author contributing)
Rachel Parks (Author contributing)
Year of Publication 2007
Volume 31
ISBN 0 903903 61 5
Source DigitalBorn
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Monograph Chapter Title Sort Order Both Arrows Access Type Author / Editor Page
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Abstract
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
37 - 48
This section covers aims and chronological focus, general archaeological context and research issues, geographical setting, environmental background and considerations, objectives and constraints, methods, finds and archive disposal, site management and the future, community archaeology and report structure.
Karen Hardy
49 - 76
The aim of the survey work was to examine the coastline of the Inner Sound for evidence of past human activity. As the focus was primarily on the Mesolithic, upstanding sites that were obviously of a later date, such as cairns, hut circles, shielings and so on were excluded.
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Steven P Ashby
Phil Austin
Ann Clarke
Fraser Hunter
Andrew Heald
David H Caldwell
Ann MacSween
Nicky Milner
Jacqui Mulville
Adrienne Powell
Rachel Parks
77 - 227
This section provides information on all sites where artefactual material was recovered. It includes sites that were test pitted, shovel pitted or sites where surface collections took place. It does not include sites with surface midden that were not test pitted. There are specialist contributions on a bone comb, charcoal, coarse stone tools, metal and glass, pottery, shellfish, animal bone and fish bone.
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Michael Cressey
228 - 230
Details of topography, geology and geomorphology.
Karen Hardy
231 - 243
Detailed archaeological description of the results of two seasons of excavation.
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
244 - 273
Over 16,500 pieces of flaked stone have been recovered, 451 pieces prior to excavation and over 16,000 pieces from the main excavation in 2000.
Karen Hardy
Steven Birch
274 - 304
Specialist report includes use-wear analysis, scanning electron microscopy of residues and an experimental programme to determine tool function.
Karen Hardy
305 - 312
A small assemblage of worked and decorative shell was found in the shell midden at Sand. it comprises scallop and cowrie shells and constitutes all the scallop and cowrie from Sand. In addition, a small assemblage of perforated limpet shells has been considered. it is not yet clear whether the limpet perforations are natural or artificial, but it is possible that the shells were deliberately collected.
Ann Clarke
313 - 317
A total of 40 coarse stone tools were recovered. All were cobble tools of some form and with two exceptions which have been ground to shape, they were unmodified before use.
Ann MacSween
318 - 321
All of the sherds were small or abraded and had no diagnostic attributes. Fabric has yet to be proved a reliable indicator of date. Most of the pottery comes from high spits and topsoil contexts. As such it does not relate to the Mesolithic use of the site.
A Isbister
322 - 324
One purplish-grey nodule of haematite and one of mudstone with an earthy orange limonite cortex were identified. Although found outside the main midden area, there is no reason to suppose the finds are not Mesolithic.
Andrew Heald
Fraser Hunter
Stuart D Campbell
Dawn McLaren
325 - 327
Most of these finds are from high spits and they are presumably all more recent than the Mesolithic activity in the rock shelter. The slag remains, including a hearth bottom indicate a single short-lived episode of blacksmithing, and the presence of two melted copper-alloy fragments in the same area suggests that limited bronze working also took place here. The glass beads have a broad date range.
Rick J Schulting
328 - 330
Three human teeth were found, One has been dated to the early Bronze Age. The others are undated.
Rachel Parks
James H Barrett
331 - 383
Excavation at Sand has produced one of the largest Mesolithic faunal assemblages in Britain. Substantial quantities of mammal, bird and fish bones have been analysed. The analysis has revealed a focus on a narrow suite of local resources, including wild terrestrial mammals, seabirds and littoral zone fish. The highly fragmentary nature of the mammal assemblage makes interpretation difficult. If the fragmentation is not the result of post-depositional processes, tentative suggestions are the possible skinning of red deer and wild boar, the extraction of bone fat and tool manufacture. The bird remains are dominated almost exclusively by razorbills and guillemots, and their behavioural and breeding patterns place the time of their capture in late spring and early summer, or late summer and autumn. The fish assemblage is dominated by fish from the cod family and wrasse family. The total length estimate distributions for the main gadid taxa, saithe and Pollack, point towards one or more seasons of fishing, targeting different sizes of fish. If this does represent two seasons of fishing, late summer and autumn (possibly into winter), and late spring are the most likely. Based on the size and species of fish, it is likely that stationary traps and nets were the primary method of fishing at Sand.
Nicky Milner
384 - 400
The preconceptions that shellfish represent a time of poverty and hardship contrast strongly with the luxury role of shellfish in today's culture. Rather than using modern perceptions to view the consumption practices of the past, it is perhaps more useful to consider the ways in which people were procuring and consuming foods in the past and reflect on the variety and richness of resources that would have been available to them. In the case of Sand, we can see that shellfish were an integral part of life; not only as a raw material but also as part of a rich and varied diet which also included other marine species such as crab and fish, terrestrial animals and, no doubt, plants.
Nicky Milner
401 - 407
It would be quite easy to dismiss crabs as a very minor resource in this midden assemblage based only on the quantity present and relative calorific contribution. However, other perspectives are possible which consider individual actions and day to day activities. This approach serves as a reminder that resources were transformed into food through the performance of procurement, preparation and consumption activities and through these actions social relationships were created and maintained.
Karen Hardy
408
Four small pearls were found towards the centre of the main midden at Sand. They are likely to have been brought to the site unintentionally either with seaweed or in shells. Individual pearls were found at two other sites.
Phil Austin
409 - 419
The charcoal reflects the successive accumulation of debris from small open fires which were located close to midden deposits and used for a range of activities including food processing. The wood used to fuel these fires was most probably collected as deadwood and included poor as well as good fuel woods. The range of wood identified and the proportional representation of each taxon is consistent throughout the site, with only minor variations, irrespective of the nature of each context. This is thought to reflect the short time that the site was in active use, the low diversity of the contemporary woody flora from which the wood originated, and the opportunistic exploitation of deadwood resources. Open woodland dominated by mixed birch/pine and hazel communities probably constituted the principal form of vegetation and this is supported by work on the vegetation of the area today.
Fraser Green
Kevin J Edwards
420 - 422
The pollen and spore content for both samples was negligible, while microscopic charcoal was more frequent.
Nyree Finlay
L McAllan
423 - 426
While geophysical survey techniques were relatively unproductive at Sand in defining the extent of the midden, there is clear potential to explore further the application of these techniques prior to excavation at other midden sites. This research is needed to determine the character of geophysical responses and to assess the suitability of these techniques for discerning the extent of shell midden deposits. In this way, not only is the suite of non-destructive archaeological techniques for Mesolithic research extended, but also possible later events can be highlighted.
Patrick J Ashmore
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
427 - 450
Together the dates provide an interesting sequence of human activity from the most distant human past of the area, into recent times. There is an obvious weakness in the lack of detailed information from many sites, but even the small amount of information available extends our knowledge of the area considerably. More importantly they provide a sound data base which is now available to be picked up by specialists who wish to increase knowledge of any one of several periods.
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
451 - 460
As a part of the project major sources of raw material were visited and the surveyors collected and recorded any nodule material that they found. In addition, walks were made across some of the beaches in the study area in order to look for nodules of suitable materials but little was found. It soon became clear that detailed work on the lithic raw material would involve the individual classification of every archaeological piece by a specialist, and thus be lengthy and expensive. In the event, basic differentiation was done by eye by the author. There is scope for more precise geological work to be done in the future. The analysis of the use of lithic raw material has much to offer the wider picture of prehistoric activity in the area.
Anthony Newton
461 - 465
Several pieces of pumice-like material were recovered. All come from Applecross and the sea loch area. In addition, many of the beaches in the area contain a pumice-like material of unknown origin. Several samples of this were collected and analysed in more detail in order to try to shed light on the nature of this material. Although none turned out to be pumice it is hoped that this report will stimulate further work on similar samples and proved a check on the superficial identification of pumice from archaeological sites.
Alastair G Dawson
466 - 472
The origins of the rockshelters at Sand and An Corran are intimately related to past changes in relative sea-level that took place at the close of the last (Late Devensian) glaciation in Scotland. The relative sea-level changes that took place across the North West Highlands at this time resulted from the complex interplay of glacio-isostatic rebound consequent upon regional ice melting (deglaciation) and the influence of glacio-eustatic changes in global ocean volume linked to the melting of ice sheets worldwide. This account describes the interaction of these two key processes and described how the raised shoreline features of Applecross, Raasay and eastern Skye were mostly formed when sea-level was lower (and not higher) than present.
473 - 480
An intertidal organic deposit enclosed within estuarine clastic sediments, is described for Clachan harbour, Raasay, the Inner Sound. The organic sediments are over and underlain by fine sands and silts containing marine microfossils. Macrofossil analyses (pollen and diatoms) indicate a regression and subsequent transgression at the site during the early Holocene. The altitude at which early Holocene marine regression and transgression is recorded is less than at sites located on the Scottish mainland at Arisaig. This reflects the geographical position of Raasay, located on the periphery of the glacio-isostatic uplift centre, under the influence of differential isostatic uplift across the Inner Hebrides.
Fraser Green
Kevin J Edwards
481 - 490
Pollen, microscopic charcoal and radiocarbon studies at four sites on Skye and Raasay provide environmental contexts for the archaeological investigations of Scotlands's First Settlers around the Inner Sound. One coring site, from a loch in northern Trotternish, Skye, provides a regional summary of environmental change. Other sites closer to the rockshelter at An Corran, Trotternish, furnish more localised pictures of landscapes change, some of which may be associated with human intervention of Mesolithic age, Intertidal organic deposits from Raasay assist in reconstructing the early Holocene environment of the area.
Robert Shiel
Andrew Stewart
Angi Silver
491 - 506
The Applecross peninsula was visited on a number of occasions during the course of the project in order to record present vegetation and soil conditions in the hope that these might throw light on the environmental history of the area. Settlement along the peninsula appears to have been restricted through time to a narrow elevational band, which the topography has confined to within about a kilometre of the modern shoreline. Exploitation of the inland areas is likely to have been limited to seasonal grazing and hunting. This section therefore concentrates on the coastal fringe. The climate, geology, soils and vegetation of the present day are all examined and the final discussion looks at the changes within these over the Holocene.
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
507 - 532
Scotland's First Settlers has been very successful not only at providing information relating to its primary aim, that of looking at the Mesolithic settlement of the Inner Sound, but also at filling out the picture of human activity in the Inner Sound up to the present day. The midden site at the rockshelter of Sand has proved to be one of the earliest midden sites in Scotland, yielding a wealth of information on the material culture, activities and environment of its inhabitants. Other Mesolithic sites broadened the picture. Yet more sites yielded information right up to the present day and they provide a formidable database which we hope will play an important role in future studies of human settlement in the area.
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Karen Hardy
533 - 558
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
562
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
563 - 565
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
566 - 567
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
568 - 571
Ann Clarke
572 - 597
Karen Hardy
598
Ann MacSween
599 - 607
Ann MacSween
608 - 614
Andrew Heald
Fraser Hunter
David H Caldwell
Stuart D Campbell
615 - 624
Fraser Hunter
626 - 627
Phil Austin
628
A Isbister
629 - 630
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
631 - 632
Nicky Milner
633
Nicky Milner
634 - 640
Nicky Milner
641 - 645
Nicky Milner
646 - 649
Nicky Milner
650 - 653
Nicky Milner
654 - 658
Nicky Milner
659
Rachel Parks
James H Barrett
660 - 662
Rachel Parks
663 - 665
Rachel Parks
666 - 677
Rachel Parks
678 - 711
Rachel Parks
712 - 714
Rachel Parks
715 - 722
Rachel Parks
723 - 735
Rachel Parks
736 - 738
Rachel Parks
739 - 743
Jacqui Mulville
744
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
745 - 747
748 - 751
Robert Shiel
Andrew Stewart
748 - 751
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
752 - 754
Karen Hardy
Caroline R Wickham-Jones
Scotland's First Settlers comprised a survey project to locate and examine sites relating to the earliest, Mesolithic, settlement of the Inner Sound, along the coastlands between Skye and the west coast of Scotland. Particular foci of interest included the existence and nature of midden sites, the use of rockshelters and caves, and the different types of lithic raw material in use. In addition, information relating to the human use of the area up to the present day was recorded. Fieldwork took place over five years between 1999 and 2004: the entire coastline of the Inner Sound together with its islands was walked; 129 new archaeological sites were recorded; 36 sites were shovel pitted; 44 test pitted; and one major excavation took place. Excavation at Sand has been particularly exciting as it has resulted in the analysis of a shell midden dating to the early-mid seventh millennium BC, the early Mesolithic of Scotland. This report comprises the results of survey and excavation work as well as detailed artefact reports, full information on ecofacts such as shell, and bone, and information on the development of the landscape and environment, including sea level change. Finally, the broad-scale coverage of the project has led to a number of discussion points that have much to offer further work, both within the area and further afield. Digital material associated with this project is available through Archaeology Data Service (ADS) archive Scotland's First Settlers.