Stone Objects

Early human groups were in southern Britain 700,000 years ago. It is quite possible that similar groups were in Scotland at the same time but any evidence for occupation will have been destroyed by the glaciers which scoured the country during later ice ages. In fact the earliest evidence for human occupation in Scotland comes at the very end of the last ice age, some 10,000 years ago.

The period from 8,000 B. C. to around 4,000 B.C. is the Mesolithic or Middle Stone Age. This is the period when south-west Scotland was occupied for the first time.The early settlers, probably living as small communities made up of a few extended families, inhabited a very different landscape from the one we know today. Much of the land was covered with a mixed woodland of oak, alder, elm and pine which was home to a range of wild anilmals including wolf, deer, elk, boar, wild cattle and beaver.

Mesolithic people were hunter-gatherers. They had semi-permanent camps close to the coast where they could exploit various marine resources such as fish, shell fish and seals as well as a range of sea birds. And from these camps they could forage in the woods for the seasonal harvest of nuts and berries. Mesolithic campsites have been discovered on the Ayrshire coast at Shewalton Sands and Ballantrae and along much of the north coast of the Solway. Excavations at Barsalloch and Low Clone on Luce Bay revealed revealed hearths, post-holes for windbreaks and tents plus thousands of flint flakes, the debris from stone tool making. A similar site has been excavated at Irish Street, Dumfries which was used by people fishing the lower reaches of the river Nith. A Mesolithic hearth exposed on the shores of the Solway at Redkirk near Annan has produced a radiocarbon date of 6900 BC. The camp at Barsalloch, Wigtownshire is much later with a radiocarbon date of around 4000 BC.

Camps sites have also been discovered in the Galloway hills at Loch Doon and Smittons and at TarfWater in the Wigtownshire moors. These were used by people hunting woodland animals. Some may have been seasonal hunting camps located close to the migration routes leading from the coast to the uplands. Others may have been next to woodland clearings where animals were attracted by the open grazing . Both the Smitton and Loch Doon sites have produced a radiocarbon dates of around 4500 BC.

Mesolithic people were skilled seafarers. No Mesolithic vesssels have been found in our area but a stone tool discovered at Kirkcolm on the shores of Loch Ryan suggests contacts with Ireland. The tool is a little flint axe of a type unique to northern Ireland and especially common on sites in County Antrim. This is is the only example of its kind found in Scotland.

Mesolithic people used bone, wood, bark and stone for their tools and weapons but generally it is only the stone implements which have survived. Rare exceptions are the carved antler harpoon heads from Shewalton,Ayrshire and Kirkudbright, Galloway; the Shewalton harpoon has produced a radiocarbob date ofaround 4000 BC. Similar bone harpoons have been found in the Firth of Forth and at cave sites near Oban and were probably used in seal hunting.

Flint cobbles can sometimes be fond on local beaches or in deposits of glacial clay. This is poor quality flint but it was collected and knapped to make simple multipurpose blades and scrapers, useful for cutting and cleaning animal hides. Flint was also used to make tiny blades known as microliths. They were set in a row on a wooden handle or shaft to create a serrated cutting edge and were particularly effective when used as arrow points. Microliths are typical of the Mesolithic period.

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