Thousands of tools found near Biggar reveal first humans in Scotland as hunters 14,000 years ago

By Ben Miller | 09 April 2014

A massive hoard of tools were left by hunters with links to Europe around 14,000 years ago

A photo of a line up of jagged flint tools against a red background
Flint tools from 14,000 years ago may reveal the connection between hunters in Europe before the North Sea flooded land links© Alan Saville
Thousands of flint artefacts found in a South Lanarkshire field were the tools of hunters chasing herds of wilds and horses during the late late-glacial period, say archaeologists investigating the oldest evidence of human occupation ever recorded in Scotland, from 14,000 years ago.

A photo of a jagged flint tool against a red background
More than 5,000 artefacts were recovered© Alan Saville
Roaming before the re-emergence of glacial conditions which saw Scotland depopulated once more, the first settlers in Scotland left more than 5,000 artefacts at Howburn, near Biggar, where the local archaeology group unearthed them between 2005 and 2009.

They are said to be “strikingly similar” to similar European discoveries from the same period.

“These tools represent a real connection with archaeological finds in north-west Germany, southern Denmark and north-west Holland - a connection not seen elsewhere in Britain at this time,” says Alan Saville, a Senior Curator in Earliest Prehistory at the National Museums of Scotland who is also the President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a specialist in the study of flaked flint and stone tools.

“This discovery is both intriguing and revolutionises our ideas about where humans came from in this very early period.

“In southern Britain, early links are with northern France and Belgium. Howburn is just one chance discovery and further such discoveries will no doubt emerge.”

The climate had improved when the game hunters arrived, but the return of glacial weather is thought to have driven humans away until around 1,000 years later. A now-destroyed cave in Argyll had previously provided the earliest evidence of humans in Scotland.

Detailing the findings, which will be fully published in a Historic Scotland report next year, Cabinet Secretary for Culture Fiona Hyslop also announced more than £1.4 million in funding for dozens of archaeological projects across Scotland during the next year.

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