Early evidence of the Neolithic in Scotland

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An illustration of early Neolithic carinated bowls from the excavation at Kirkton of Fetteresso. (IMAGE: ARO)

An excavation at Kirkton of Fetteresso near Stonehaven in Aberdeenshire has yielded some of the earliest Neolithic pottery yet found in Scotland.

Carried out by Cameron Archaeology in 2015, the dig revealed a pit with over 300 pottery sherds, most of which appear to have come from Neolithic carinated bowls. During post-excavation analysis, organic material was used to date the pit to between 3952 and 3766 BC. The start of the Neolithic in Scotland has previously been estimated at c.3,800 BC, meaning that this site was probably used by one of the earliest generations of farmers to have arrived in Scotland.

There are only two other sites in Britain with similarly early Neolithic dates: Coupland in Northumberland and Eweford Pit in East Lothian. Both of these sites also produced evidence of carinated bowls, solidifying the idea that this pottery tradition first appeared in north-eastern Britain before spreading across the rest of the island.

Kirkton of Fetteresso also provided new insights into how the Neolithic way of life spread across the landscape. As Robert Lenfert, who coauthored the post-excavation report, explained: ‘This new evidence doesn’t support the previous notion that early Neolithic colonisation followed major rivers. Rather, it is more convincing to postulate that this technology – and those capable of producing it – arrived directly via sea routes into Stonehaven Bay, further supporting the evidence that this pottery is very early in the Neolithic period in Scotland.’

In addition to Neolithic pottery, the excavation also revealed evidence for over 4,000 years of human occupation at the site, stretching from the early Neolithic through to the early medieval or Pictish period. Alison Cameron, who co-led the research, said: ‘What is also particularly striking about Kirkton of Fetteresso is the apparent repetitive yet episodic activity within this relatively small area over at least four millennia.’

The post-excavation report was recently published by GUARD Archaeology and can be read for free at www.archaeologyreports online.com/reports/2019/ARO34.html.

This article appeared in CA 354.

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