A Mesolithic social territory: Archaeologists examine bloodstones in forest on north-west coast of Scotland

By Culture24 Reporter | 14 March 2016

Charcoal-producing platforms, roundhouses, tools and evidence of hunter-gathering have been found at a site on the north-west coast of Scotland

A photo of an Archaeological site near the Isle of Rum in Scotland where prehistoric finds have been made
The tiny Scottish Isle of Rum could have been a “social territory” during the Mesolithic period, say archaeologists who have discovered tools for hunting, drilling, scraping and cutting on a series of charcoal burning platforms on the west coast of the country.

An “extraordinary” range of radiocarbon dates have been taken from a lithic scatter at Loch Doilean, in Argyll, where evidence of quartz and flint exploitation has been found alongside raw materials across sites used from around 8,500 BC to the early 19th century.

A photo of an Archaeological site near the Isle of Rum in Scotland where prehistoric finds have been made
Two of the hearths at the site were shown to have been utilised between the 11th and 12th centuries - one with a central hearth and the other as a stance for a post-built roundhouse. Two more were built in the late 18th or early 19th centuries specifically for the purpose of producing charcoal© ARO
“The most interesting aspect of this small lithic assemblage is its inclusion of relatively large numbers of bloodstone artefacts – 50 pieces,” says Torben Ballin, a lithic specialist examining the results of the evaluation, commissioned by Forestry Commission Scotland in January 2015 ahead of the creation of a new forest road.

“Although the largest assemblages of Rum bloodstone are known from the Isle of Rum itself, assemblages have also been recovered from mostly Mesolithic sites up to 90km away.

A photo of an Archaeological site near the Isle of Rum in Scotland where prehistoric finds have been made
The site lies north of the village of Strontian on the shores of Loch Sunart© ARO
“It is thought that the area around Rum, with its bloodstone-bearing early prehistoric sites, may define a Mesolithic social territory and its associated exchange network.

“Although the general size and character of the individual artefacts suggest that most of the assemblage is late Mesolithic, some pieces are clearly later.

“A pitchstone microblade core is likely to date to the early Neolithic. Yorkshire flint and one oblique arrowhead date to the middle or late Neolithic periods, and a fragment of a shale bangle is either later Neolithic or early Bronze Age.”

Clare Ellis, of Argyll Archaeology, suggests that one roundhouse at the site may have been repaired and deliberately destroyed, possibly during the 13th century.

“The recovery of some semi-charred wood suggests that if the roundhouse had witnessed a destructive fire, a collapsed thatched roof structure may have smothered the flames,” says Ramsay.

“This fire was probably the result of a deliberate act as there were no finds from the ‘floor’ level, implying that all useful and precious items had been removed."

The site lies on the eastern edge of a large area which could have covered the southern Inner Hebrides.

“Within this territory a relatively small iterant population probably revisited specific ‘task sites’ at certain times of the year,” says Ellis. “They exploited a specific food or natural resource, or in some cases shellfish as well as terrestrial animals such as red deer.

“The lack of structural remains, the relatively small size of the assemblage and the small number of tools may indicate that the terrace was utilised for very short period of times, probably during hunting-gathering expeditions.

“It is probably no coincidence that the site is located near to Loch Doilean and next to the River Pollach, up which salmon still run to spawn.”

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Three places to discover the archaeology of Scotland in

Museum of the Cumbraes, Millport
From 4,000 year-old stone coffins – or ‘cists’ – found on the Cumbraes, through stories of smuggling in the 18th century to life during the second world war and indeed life on the island today.

Museum of the Isles, Isle of Skye
Six interconnecting galleries take you through 1,500 years of the history and culture of the area once known as the Kingdom of the Isles.

Stewartry Museum, Dumfries
Thanks to years of collecting and to the hard work of local metal detectorists, the museum holds an amazing collection of archaeology from the local area. Meet them in the current exhibition, Close Encounters with Tiny Treasures.
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