Glasgow & West Scotland

Scotland's 'first humans' discovered near Biggar

Flint tools Image copyright Alan Saville
Image caption The flint tools were unearthed over a four-year period at the South Lanarkshire site

Archaeologists have uncovered what they believe could be the earliest evidence of human settlers in Scotland.

More than 5,000 flint objects dated to 14,000 years ago have been recovered near Biggar in South Lanarkshire.

Experts say the tools may have been used by the very first settlers to arrive in Scotland.

Prior to the find, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Scotland could be dated to about 13,000 years ago at a now-destroyed cave site in Argyll.

The South Lanarkshire find was made over a four-year period between 2005 and 2009 in fields at Howburn.

Archaeologists believe the discovery helps prove a theory that the hunters who left behind the flint remains came to Scotland in pursuit of game, probably herds of wild horses and reindeer, at a time when the climate improved following the previous severe glacial conditions.

Glacial conditions returned again about 13,000 years ago and Scotland was once again depopulated for roughly another 1,000 years, after which new groups with different types of flint tools make their appearance

The flint tools found in South Lanarkshire are said to be "strikingly close" in design to similar finds in northern Germany and southern Denmark from the same period, a link which has helped experts establish their age.

The nature of the link made between the ancient people in Scotland, Germany and southern Denmark is not yet understood. However the similarity in the design of the tools from the two regions suggests connections across an area of land which is now the North Sea.

Alan Saville, president of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and a specialist in the study of flaked flint and stone tools said: "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.

'Tangible link'

"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."

Research will continue on the site with findings will be published next year in a report funded by Historic Scotland.

Fiona Hyslop, Minister for Culture and External Affairs, revealed the findings at the Institute for Archaeologists' annual conference, which is being held in Glasgow.

She said: "Our heritage helps us to connect our past, present and future. It reveals stories about where we've come from and who we are, and helps us to reflect on who we could be.

"The discovery of the earliest physical evidence of human occupation in Scotland is hugely exciting, in part because it offers us a very tangible link to the past and a physical reminder of the people who came before us."

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