The Mists of Time

We all think about where our family came from and what their origins were. Most people will get back at least a few hundred years. I thought it would be fun to see how far back I could get with my Scottish side. I mean way back as a people. Needless to say, opinions vary and new evidence is uncovered every day which disputes modern thought. In Canada, we live very closely to our indigenous people and most have a basic awareness of their origins. Their culture does not seem so distant to us because they are here to keep it alive. Places like “Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump” in Alberta were in use for at least 6000 years during the time of “prehistory”.

How do we define “prehistory”? Oxford dictionary describes it as “the time before written records“. One of the main tools used for prehistoric information is archaeology, again defined by Oxford as “the study of cultures of the past, and of periods of history by examining the remains of buildings and objects found in the ground. ”  That is the way they found out about the time in Scotland before the coming of the Roman Invasion.

The story of ancient Scotland is similar to most northern countries in that prehistoric people migrated there in pursuit of food. They were hunter-gatherers who crossed the land or water as glaciers retreated. This period was known as the Mesolithic period (8000 BC) or the middle Stone Age because tools of the time were made of stone. Below a photo by Hans Splinter of a Mesolithic reconstruction.


A Mesolithic Reconstruction

The Mesolithic Period soon gave way to the Neolithic period where farming became a way of life. By this time, the land had warmed and there were grasses and seeds, wild and domesticated animals, possibly arriving from the south where it had been warmer. This was the time of chambered tombs and stone circles. Skara Brae on the Orkney Islands is an amazing example of a Neolithic dwelling. There is a gallery of it on the link above.

In 2500 BC, Neolithic man discovered how to melt rock and create bronze metal, thus, the beginning of the Bronze Age. Scotland had been importing metal tools of gold and bronze from Ireland but this gave them a new prosperity. The culture flourished and we see signs of a hierarchy among the people. Scotland was on the trade route to Northern Europe and those who controlled the metal trade became more powerful. They created beautiful bronze swords, shields and spear-heads which they would often have buried with them.

bronze age swords

Bronze Age Swords from Scotland

Around 700 BC, metal-workers discovered how to make iron, heralding the Iron Age and the start of a more complicated society.  Iron was a much superior metal for weaponry. The wealthy began to build defensive houses or seek protection from a chieftain. (Can you see the start of the clan system ?)

Iron Age Sword

Iron Age Sword

By the time the Romans arrived around 79 AD, Scotland was a country of many distinct localities and cultures. Recently controversy surrounds the way that these areas developed into separate entities, especially that of the Celts. Tradition has it that Celtic culture was caused by an influx of people from Europe either through war or mass migration but there has been little archaeological evidence to support this.  Rather, the current argument is that trade with other nations had an effect on a stable culture with influences more likely to come from the South and West of Scotland.

Information from: – In Search of Scotland Peoples of Britain
Wikipedia-Timeline of Prehistoric Scotland

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