Scotland’s oldest settlement, dating back 14,000 years, was near Biggar, in South Lanarkshire, archaeologists say. The site may have been a camp used by hunters following migrating herds of reindeer or wild horses across plains that are now covered by the North Sea.

Its discovery by the Biggar Archeology Group means humans have lived in Scotland for 3,000 years longer than previously thought. Until now the earliest evidence of human habitation in the country was at Cramond, near Edinburgh, which had been radiocarbon-dated to about 8400 BCE.

A large scattering of flints was first found in the field near Biggar a few years ago but the site was initially thought to be late Neolithic and was later classified as an Iron Age settlement after radiocarbon dating of charcoal found there. However, recent analysis of more of the flints revealed that they were from the end of the Upper Palaeolithic period, 14,000 years ago.

The True Significance of the hunting kit is revealed

Their true significance was realised by Torben Ballin, an expert in stone finds, and Alan Saville from the National Museums of Scotland. Mr Saville said:

There would have been a temporary camp site where the flints were found, so there’s a faint possibility that there might be post holes and waste pits there.

He added that the chances of finding that evidence were “fairly slim, but we live in hope”. He said the diggers from Biggar were planning to go back to the site in the summer to explore it further.

They are similar to tools known to have been used in the Netherlands and northern Germany 14,000 years ago, or 12,000 BC. They were probably used by hunters to kill reindeer, mammoth and giant elk and to cut up prey and prepare their skins.

The discovery conjures up a picture of wandering groups of hunters making their way across dry land where the North Sea is now, after the end of the Ice Age.

Saville hailed the discovery as

a breakthrough that we have been hoping to find for years and years.

He added:

We always thought that there must be Upper Palaeolithic occupation in Scotland but we never actually found material which was conclusive enough, so it is a breakthrough that we can now say there is absolutely no doubt that people were here.

The tool types involve particularly a couple of tanged points (projectile heads), but also burins, end-of-blade scrapers, and a piercer of so-called Zinken-type, as well as there being evidence for a certain type of blade-core preparation technique known as en eperon.

A burin was a flaked rock tool with a chisel-like edge probably used to remove flesh from bone. “Eperon” means “spur” in French. Here it refers to a blade with a thick-ended butt at one end. The toolkit suggests there were at least two major technologies in early Britain: Hamburgian and Creswellian. The latter was characterized by “Cheddar points,” tools with trapezoidal-backed blades.

People migrated from to Scotland via Doggerland

The flints, which included end-of-blade scrapers and piercers, were found to date from around 12,000 BCE. They are similar to those found in southern Denmark and northern Germany, which have been dated accurately to that time. It’s now believed people from those regions made their way to Scotland via a large land bridge called Doggerland, which connected the island of Great Britain to mainland Europe during the last ice age. The individuals in this case likely belonged to the Hamburg culture, known for its reindeer-hunting prowess.

The settlement may be ancient for Scotland but it is positively modern compared with finds in England, where there is evidence of a human settlement near Lowestoft on the east coast that dates back 700,000 years. The Biggar Archaeology Group now plans to carry out further excavations at the site to see what other artefacts it can find.

Repost from April 2009.