Keywords | Mesolithic, Epipalaeolithic, Ahrensburgian, Younger Dryas, Orkney, Scotland, Britain, Viking-Bergen
Orkney is perhaps better known for its spectacular Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Viking archaeology, with clear evidence for long-distance contact and seafaring from earliest times. However, there are more than hints that the islands were occupied in the Mesolithic period, 9000–4000 BC if not earlier, when sea levels were as much as 30m lower than today.
◊ Orkneyjar is an excellent heritage and archaeological news aggregation website, well worth a visit. News items are categorised by period such as Mesolithic »
Discoveries through the noughties have included hazelnut shells dated to 6820–6660 Cal BC and diagnostic flints buried below Bronze Age and Neolithic monuments.
There’s even earlier and extremely exciting evidence too:
“The discovery of two tiny flint arrowheads in Stronsay could represent the earliest evidence of human activity found in Orkney – if not Scotland – to date.
Naomi Woodward, of Orkney College, found the tanged points – thought to have been used between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago – in a flint scatter collected during the Stronsay Archaeological Survey in April 2007. Flint experts Caroline Wickham-Jones and Torbin Ballin subsequently identified them as very early forms of prehistoric arrowheads – a type derived from a classification known as Ahrensburgian, found across the plains of north-western Europe.”
Epipalaeolithic – Ahrensburgian
These finds, plus a few others across the western Scottish mainland and Hebridian islands, push evidence for hunter-gatherer activity back to before the arctic conditions of the Loch Lomond Stadial, around 9000 BC (equivalent to the Younger Dryas of north-western Europe). Prior to this re-chilling—at around 11,000 BC—temperatures had improved after the last glaciation to be similar to those of today. Finds of a similar date (11,000–10,500 BC) have been dredged from the North Sea (Viking-Bergen) between Shetland and Norway, showing that there was occupation quite a considerable distance north at this time.
◊ Timothy Darvill’s book Prehistoric Britain has a good summary of known evidence and toolkits | Google books preview »