Review – Reindeer Hunters at Howburn Farm, South Lanarkshire

2 mins read
Torben Bjarke Ballin
Archaeopress, £25
ISBN 978-1784919016
Review George Nash

This fascinating volume focuses on a Scottish settlement site that has its origins in the Late Upper Palaeolithic (LUP), inhabited at a time when the glaciers in northern Europe were in retreat. The book presents the results of a large excavation where a considerable lithic assemblage was recovered. The site of Howburn Farm is regarded as the oldest prehistoric settlement in Scotland – dating between c.12,000 and 10,800 BCE – and is considered, based on the mainly lithic evidence, to be the only Hamburgian settlement in Britain (that is, a LUP reindeer-hunter site).

The lithic assemblage included a unique set of diagnostic flint blade tools that are usually found on hunter-gatherer sites elsewhere in northern Europe. It is claimed that some of the flint may have originated from Doggerland, which at this time was the landmass that bridged the British Isles and the European continent, and is now the seabed of the North Sea. Diagnostic flint tools from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Early Bronze Age were also discovered, suggesting the site has a history that extends at least 10,000 years.

In addition to reporting the results of the excavation, the book provides that all-important archaeological context – for example, the palaeoenvironmental methods employed on soils using borehole log data from the immediate landscape. It is from these borehole samples that pollen was extracted, which allowed the team to make significant inferences on the landscape at this time. Not surprisingly, the pollen record indicates an open landscape colonised with dwarf tree species, sedges, and mosses, indicating a cold, harsh climate.

This book is an important contribution for understanding the economics of Late Upper Palaeolithic reindeer hunters. It is worth mentioning that the late Alan Saville (National Museum Scotland), who is one of the contributors to this volume, died in 2016. He is largely responsible for recognising this early lithic assemblage.

Finally, it has been said that a picture can say a thousand words: look no further than the evocative cover – a herd of reindeer trekking through the wintery Cairngorms in Scotland!

This review appeared in CA 344.

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