Evidence for Scotland’s first people?


Professor Steven Mithen of Reading University has been leading teams of archaeologists to the Southern Hebrides in general, and Islay in particular, for many years.  Last year we were able to host his group at The Academy in Bruichladdich, and while they were unfortunately unable to stay with us again this year, they were able to take a few hours off from digging to tour the distillery with our general manager, Duncan McGillivray.

The ongoing project has seen them open a trench on the east coast this year, in a spectacular location overlooking the Sound of Islay. Originally discovered by DJ MacPhee who is head keeper at Dunlossit Estate, a preliminary evaluation of the site suggests that this may be extremely exciting.  They appear to be excavating a very old occupation horizon, one that may be as old as any yet found in Scotland.  This would have been created by Mesolithic or ‘Middle Stone Age’ people around eleven thousand years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.

Scotland’s first people were nomadic with a highly mobile lifestyle, moving with the seasons and following game and fish.  They made their toolkits from stone and wood and antler and probably did not have permanent shelters in which to live.

The team has found a fascinating assemblage of their tiny flint and quartz ‘microliths’, plus what is possibly a very early and extremely rare mesolithic handaxe.  They have also discovered at least one large piece of bone, as yet unidentified, again an extremely rare find on a Mesolithic site.

Once the material is back at the University laboratories they will be able to obtain a series of radio carbon dates which should help answer some intriguing questions.  Were these people some of Scotland’s first human inhabitants?

Our pictures show the remote locaion of the site plus a collection of stone tools that have been recovered from the trench.  Dr Malcolm Ogilvie of the Museum of Islay Life is in conversation with archaeologist Dr Karen Wicks from Reading University.  The ferry ‘Hebridean Isles’ can be seen heading north up the Sound of Islay to berth at Port Askaig with the island of Jura in the background.

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