Hunter-gatherer community could have drilled burnt bone found on Scotland's Isle of Skye

By Ben Miller | 06 October 2015

Flints from first groups of people to have arrived in post-Ice Age Scotland found near Mesolithic building

A photo of a hand holding a small archaeological bone up to sea at Staffin Bay on Skye
A section of bone from hunter-gatherer times has been found at Corran, Staffin© University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute / Staffin Community Trust
A 12mm-long burnt piece of bone could have been drilled as a clothing accessory by members of a prehistoric North Skye community, say archaeologists who have found hundreds of flints from 8,000 years ago while investigating a Mesolithic seaside building.

More than 200 people visited the excavation in Staffin Bay, where scientific analysis of the deliberately-shaped bone is expected to offer clues about the hunter-gatherer period in Scotland. The carving could also have been part of a necklace or a bevel-ended tool.

A photo of people taking part in a dig on rocks on Staffin Bay on the Isle of Skye
Local residents have been involved in the excavation© University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute / Staffin Community Trust
“It could have been a toggle or bead,” says Dan Lee, of the University of the Highlands and Islands, who believes the site could have been one of several along the bay where hunter-gatherers congregated and worked stone, perhaps pursuing fish and mammals at the mouth of the Kilmartin River.

“The dark layer inside the structure turned out to be two separate pockets of material in between the irregular surface of the bedrock. It contained very dense concentrations of flakes, debitage, some blades, cores and scrapers.

“The layer also contained burnt bone. This material appears to have accumulated over time in clefts in the rock as people sat there and worked stone.

“The site was certainly used for repeated episodes of stone working, which seems to have occurred over a wide area, but mainly concentrated on the slight promontory.

“This spot has good views over the river mouth and beach and it is easy to see why it was attractive to Mesolithic hunter gatherers.

“Although the structure did not turn out to be prehistoric, it has protected significant evidence for Mesolithic activity below it.

“Hopefully we have enough material for radiocarbon dates. Further excavation would be useful to better define the extent of the site.”

Dugald Ross, of the Staffin Community Trust, has been monitoring the site for several years.

“The circular foundation now appears to be of a later date than initially thought,” he says.

“The lower levels have yielded material which is typical of the first groups of people to have arrived in Scotland after the last Ice Age.”

The trust views the dig as an important cultural and economic project. It is the first excavation to be held in Staffin for more than 20 years.


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Three museums to see Mesolithic finds in

Museum of Islay Life, Argyll
The main collection, of more than 2,700 objects, includes artefacts as diverse as stone implements used in the Mesolithic era, Victorian and Edwardian items from the Laird's house, farming implements and more.

Liskeard and District Museum, Cornwall
The remains of engine houses on the south eastern edge of Bodmin Moor tell of 19th century mines producing copper, tin and other minerals, covering local history from Mesolithic settlers to the 19th Century.

Ballymoney Museum, County Antrim
The exhibition galleries feature everything from Mesolithic archaeology to motorcycle road racing, including rare finds from the Bronze Age and medieval period, as well as exhibits associated with the political upheaval of the late 18th century and the United Irish Rebellion.
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