Sunday 25 September 2016

Swine Team roots out earliest evidence of Scottish life

Published 11/10/2015 | 12:56

Foraging pigs unearthed a set of 12,000-year-old Mesolithic Ice Age items on Islay
Foraging pigs unearthed a set of 12,000-year-old Mesolithic Ice Age items on Islay

The earliest evidence of life in Scotland has been found - by a herd of pigs.

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The discovery was made at Rubha Port an t-Seilich, on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, in 2009 after the foraging pigs unearthed a set of 12,000-year-old Mesolithic Ice Age items

Archaeologists from Reading University moved in and discovered a trove of artefacts including tools such as scrapers used for cleaning skins and sharp points for hunting big game.

But the most exciting discovery came on the final day of the excavation in 2013, when the team uncovered tools dating back 15,000 years to the Palaeolithic era.

It is believed the tools were made by people of the Ahrensburgian culture, which flourished in mainland Europe towards the end of the last Ice Age.

Similar sites have recently been discovered in Denmark and Sweden, suggesting the Ahrensburgian people may also have been coastal foragers hunting sea mammals from skin boats.

Speaking to the BBC, Prof Steve Mithen, who led the excavation with Dr Karen Wicks, said: "The Mesolithic finds were a wonderful discovery - but what was underneath took our breath away.

"The Ice Age tools provide the first unequivocal presence of people in Scotland about 3,000 years earlier than previously indicated. This moves the story of Islay into a new historical era, from the Mesolithic into the Palaeolithic."

Dr Wicks admitted the initial discovery was "more swine team than Time Team", adding: " Archaeology relies on expert planning and careful analysis, but a bit of luck is also very welcome."

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