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18 October 2003
Findings at a Prehistoric hunting camp in Scotland

A recently processed radiocarbon date shows that a prehistoric hunting camp excavated at Manor Bridge, just outside Peebles, is one of the oldest yet known in Scotland. The result shows that the hazelnut must date to between 8,300 and 7,960 BCE in the Mesolithic period. Only two of the sites of this period known from Scotland are older: Cramond, on the shores of the Forth outside Edinburgh dates to 8,600 - 8,100 BCE, and Daer Reservoir, Lanarkshire, excavated under the direction of Tam Ward, dates to 8,550 - 7,950 BCE. Manor Bridge, along with Daer, shows that groups of hunter-gatherers were present in the interior of Scotland soon after our first evidence of their arrival in the country.
     The site at Manor Bridge lies on a small rocky outcrop on the north bank of the Tweed, immediately downstream of its junction with the Manor Water. Well-known local archaeological enthusiast Bob Knox first identified the site in the early 1980s. He spotted tiny stone tools made of chert and flint, eroding out of the popular footpath along the river.
     In July 1998, along with people from the Department of Archaeology of Edinburgh University, Bob excavated a small number of test pits on the rocky outcrop above the river junction and in the field above this. The excavations showed evidence of structural remains including a stone setting and a pit or scoop from which the carbonised hazelnuts were recovered.
     Much of the evidence from the site is in the form of stone tools, of which nearly a thousand have been found. Small amounts of flint and larger amounts of local deposits of chert were used to manufacture blades and tiny tools known as microliths. Together, all the evidence points to a small campsite set above the Tweed.
     The Manor Bridge date places this activity around 1,300-1,600 years after the end of the last Ice Age, and the landscape surrounding the site would then have been dominated by light woodland with birch and hazel particularly important.
     The location of the site, above a popular fishing location, seems to imply that salmon may have been an important resource. As animal remains do not survive, it is difficult to be certain about the overall diet - but it certainly seems that hazelnuts played a part as they did on many other Mesolithic sites in northern Europe. Collected in the autumn, they would have provided a useful source of nourishment especially if roasted and stored for the winter use.
     Further work is needed at this and other sites in the region, so that archaeologists can get a better picture of when and how people first settled the Borders landscape.

Source: Peeblesshire News (16 October 2003)

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