Stone Age, or Neolithic period, had its origins in Northern
Europe more than 9000 years ago, towards the end of the last
Ice Age. As the ice retreated, gradually first of all vegetation,
and then animals, colonised northwards into the area of modern
Scotland. The first humans in Scotland who followed would have
been hunter-gatherers, living off the land, gleaning a natural
harvest of fruit and vegetables and killing fish and small mammals
with rudimentary weapons. Since the land and climate in Scotland
would not have been particularly productive, these peoples are
likely to have been mostly nomadic in their lifestyle, moving
on to new territory whenever they exhausted the natural supplies.
As a result the natural environment would have been able to
recover each season and their impact would have been slight.
Populations would have been very small indeed by modern standards
would, as shown, have been made from the skins of the animals
they killed and their tools were made of the stone which has given
the era its name. Humans from this time have left very few traces
of their existence. Amongst these were the arrowheads and axes
made of flint on which they depended to hunt their supply of protein.
'middens' or rubbish heaps have also been found and these contain
in some places thousands of shells of the whelks, mussels, limpets
and other shellfish which supplemented their diet. Bones were
used as harpoons or spears for catching fish.
humans, in Scotland as elsewhere, began to develop more sophisticated
methods and tools. Fire began to be used to clear land to encourage
new growth of vegetation and make permanent changes to the landscape.
From this the removal of the great forests from Scotland's scenery
this time onwards appeared the first real monuments to the existence
of man as a society in Scotland. The great Neolithic structures
bear witness to communities which could organise themselves to
quarry and construct huge stone circles, the purpose of which
is still obscure, although they are thought to have had religious
significance. Particularly fine examples are at Stenness in Orkney
and Callanish in the Hebridean island of Lewis.
of daily life now also becomes available. In the north of Scotland,
especially, where timber to construct shelters was rare, houses
built of stone have survived at places like the settlement of
Skara Brae in Orkney. Here, a whole village from around 3000 BC
was buried by encroaching sand and uncovered only comparatively
recently by wind and tide erosion.
houses and their contents of furniture, also built of stone, are
in many cases almost intact and allow us a unique insight into
the lives of the people of the period. Excavation of this site
and others have provided examples of the food that was eaten,
of the domestic livestock that was kept, and of the vessels used
in cooking and eating.
peoples of the later Stone Age in Scotland were not homogenous,
however. There were amongst them different cultures and there
is some indication that new peoples continued to migrate into
the country. The evidence for this comes from the very elaborate
religious rituals which surrounded the burial of the dead.
the west coast, people arrived, probably originally from the Mediterranean.
From interpretation of archaeological remains, they appeared to
have moved northwards up through Spain, the west of France, the
Irish Sea, arriving in Galloway, Argyll and as far north as Orkney
and Shetland. These were the 'long-headed' people who built the
remarkable chambered cairns, vaults for multiple graves.
about 1800 BC, from the east, 'round-headed' tribes arrived from
mainland Europe. Their archaeological evidence comes from the
eastern borders and the coastal plain of the Forth and Tay estuaries
and as far north as the Moray Firth. The dead were, in contrast
buried individually, in stone boxes, cists which were so short
that bodies were put into a crouched position. The grave was covered
by a smaller round mound or barrow.
the body was accompanied by a pottery vessel containing food and
drink for the after-life, these folk have come to be known as
the 'beaker' people. They, like their neighbours in the west,
were farmers, but as time passed, there were momentous changes
because some groups of the beaker people show evidence of the
use of metals like copper and gold. The transition to a new 'age'
to Scottish History