17. Economy and Environment During the Early Mesolithic of Western Scotland: Repeated Visits to a Fishing Locality on a Small Island in the Inner Hebrides
Ecology of Early Settlement in Northern Europe - Conditions for Subsistence and Survival (Volume 1) - Per Persson
Karen Wicks [+]
University of Reading
Steven Mithen [+]
University of Reading
When and from where was Scotland first colonised are key debates in studies of the Mesolithic in northwest Europe. The earliest radiocarbon-dated evidence indicates an in-filling of Scotland by people after c. 8300 BC though much speculation exists concerning the routes taken by the first people reaching its west coast. Models for this process of colonisation often factor in a heavy emphasis on the role of marine resources in the procurement strategies of pioneering communities, these largely being based on studies of Mesolithic middens distributed across the west coast mainland and the islands of the Hebridean archipelago. With deep sounds and large stretches of open water, access to these islands had to have been by boats, the direct evidence for which is currently lacking. In this contribution we describe one of the earliest Mesolithic sites in western Scotland, located at Fiskary Bay on the small island of Coll. Excavation has yielded Mesolithic chipped stone artefacts in association with fish bone, a piece of worked antler and charred plant remains. The site is interpreted primarily as a short-term fishing camp, visited on multiple occasions between c. 7200 and 6200 BC. The cessation of visits to Fiskary appears to relate to a significant population decline in western Scotland that has been causally linked to the abrupt cooling of the so-called 8.2ka event. We compare the charred plant remains and an off-site pollen-stratigraphic record to explore vegetation resource availability and woodland exploitation. The palaeoecological records obtained from the wood charcoal and fish bone assemblages indicate that foragers were camping and fishing for near-shore dwelling marine fish, perhaps using fish traps at the shoreline. As such, Fiskary provides one further element of the Early Mesolithic settlement-subsistence system that suggests that adaptations suited to coastal and marine oriented economic strategies were established within foraging groups in western Scotland by the latter quarter of the 8th millennium BC.