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31 May 2010
Paleolithic camp reveals secrets of Scottish hunters

Alan Saville, of National Museums Scotland, joined archaeologist Tam Ward at a national conference in Glasgow to discuss ongoing work at Howburn Farm, an ancient human campsite discovered by amateur enthusiasts in 2005. The discovery, north of Biggar (South Lanarkshire, Scotland), is the oldest so far found, and proves that humans lived in Scotland as long as 14,000 years ago.
     Initial estimates suggested stone tools at the scene were made in around 2000 BCE, but last year they were shown to be more than four times as old, making them the earliest signs of humanity so far discovered in Scotland. Now, experts have pieced together some of the life story of the humans who would have used them.
     Saville said these early arrivals would have been physically similar to today's Scots, but with a markedly different lifestyle. "They lived in small groups, probably tribes of some sort. It's virtually impossible to tell how many used this site at one time, but probably no more than half-a-dozen or so." Saville described the Howburn Farm site as 'a forward camp rather than a base camp', suggesting it was a temporary home for a hunting party.
     Archaeologists are still debating how they would have used the stone and flint tools that have been discovered. "It's one of the $64,000 questions about this period - whether these small, blunted points were used as tips and barbs of spears or of arrows," Saville said. The implements are about 4cm in length, and as many as 40,000 fragments have been uncovered so far. It appears that the hunters made their own weapons at the campsite, and it may have been visited by several groups over a number of years. Saville cited similarities between their tools and others used for this purpose on the continent.
     In those days, Scotland's climate would have been similar to modern Scandinavia, but a mini ice-age that began about 13,000 years ago sent temperatures plummeting for a 1000-year period in the interim. This would have forced hunting parties and their prey back across the North Sea basin towards Denmark and Germany, meaning the humans who roamed Scotland 14,000 years ago were probably not ancestors of modern Scots.
     Saville said the find in Scotland was slightly different in character to other sites in Yorkshire and southern England, and that it had more in common with those in other northern European countries. The absence of any discoveries in the north of England may point towards a buffer zone between two distinct populations of early nomads.
     Tam Ward, the amateur archaeologist who led the exploration of Howburn Farm, said his group - the Biggar Archaeological Trust - was turning up new sites every weekend. "We're finding mesolithic sites all over the place, dating from about 10,000 years ago to 6000 years," he said.

Source: The Herald (29 may 2010)

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