Scotland's Upper Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic industries

I find Scotland's early Post-Glacial industries particularly interesting, as they represent a period of environmental flux, where people had to be highly adaptable. As a starting point, the glaciers had to melt away before people could recolonize this part of Britain, but when that had happened, it was a matter of the pioneer settlers adapting to the changing climate, which in turn determined changes to the available land, vegetation and fauna.

This period saw the disappearance of Doggerland and the formation of the North Sea and the Channel; it saw nomadic reindeer hunters of the great steppes becoming hunters of the open forest, then the denser Atlantic forest, and – in the Middle Mesolithic – coastal populations may have relied more on marine resources than on hunting and gathering; and with these changes, lithic industries adapted to new needs and opportunities, changing gradually from producers of large blades for various tanged and backed points to producers of microblades for composite lithic implements.

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Refitted Havelte point from the Late Hamburgian site at Howburn, S Lanarkshire (Ballin et al. 2010); more typical Havelte points were recovered during the 2009 excavation at Howburn (Ballin et al. forthcoming) (drawn by Hazel Martingell).

Refitted Havelte point from the Late Hamburgian site at Howburn, S Lanarkshire
(Ballin et al. 2010); more typical Havelte points were recovered during the 2009
excavation at Howburn (Ballin et al. forthcoming)(drawn by Hazel Martingell).

A particularly interesting aspect of these changes is the way raw material preferences changed. Excavations at Howburn in southern Scotland suggest that the first settlers in Scotland, representing Hamburgian industries, relied largely on flint, which would have been the raw material they knew intimately from the regions they were leaving (whether in England or in Denmark or northern Germany). Later, people adapted to local raw materials (like chert, quartz, or Skye tuff), and it seems that this process of adaptation by and large corresponds to the altering raw material preferences experienced in other recently deglaciated parts of NW Europe. In Norway, for example, the first settlers relied mainly on flint, but after the first millennium they slowly adapted to the many lithic materials available in that region, such as quartz, quartzite, mylonite, rhyolite, etc. The question is, when and how did this happen in Scotland? To deal with this matter, more (and better dated!) Scottish Upper Palaeolithic and Early Mesolithic assemblages need to be recovered, analyzed and published.

Tuff blade and blade fragments from Clachan Harbour, Raasay (Ballin et al. 2011), probably dating to the Upper Palaeolithic or Early Mesolithic. (drawn by Leeanne Whitelaw)

Tuff blade and blade fragments from Clachan Harbour, Raasay
(Ballin et al. 2011), probably dating to the Upper Palaeolithic or
Early Mesolithic. (drawn by Leeanne Whitelaw)

Presently, the following early Post-Glacial industries have been identified in Scotland (type site(s) in bracket): 1) Late Hamburgian (Howburn); 2) Federmesser (Kilmelfort Cave); 3) Ahrensburgian (Shieldaig and Tiree); 4) possibly a Norwegian-style transitional UP/EM industry (Stronsay; the finds presently being processed by Naomi Woodward, Aberdeen University, as part of her phd dissertation); 5) Star Carr style industries (eg, Morton, Glenbatrick, An Corran, Lussa Bay); and Deepcar style industries (Weston Farm; to be published in cooperation with Dr Chris Barrowman, Lewis) – the finds from Clachan Harbour, Raasay, may actually be UP rather than EM. Much work is still needed to fully understand how people, their lithic industries, as well as human behaviour and interaction adapted to the period's environmental changes.

Backed points from the Federmesser cave site at Kilmelfort, near Oban (Saville & Ballin 2010)(drawn by Marian O'Neil).

Backed points from the Federmesser cave site at Kilmelfort,
near Oban (Saville & Ballin 2010). (drawn by Marian O'Neil)