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12 April 2014
Evidence of first human settlers in Scotland

An assemblage of over 5,000 flint artefacts was recovered in 2005 by Biggar Archaeology Group in fields at Howburn, near Biggar in South Lanarkshire (Scotland), and subsequent studies have dated their use to 14,000 years ago. Prior to the find, the oldest evidence of human occupation in Scotland could be dated to around 13,000 years ago at a now-destroyed cave site in Argyll.
     Dating to the very earliest part of the late-glacial period, Howburn is likely to represent the first settlers in Scotland. The flint tools are strikingly close in design to similar finds in northern Germany and southern Denmark from the same period, a link which has helped experts to date them.
     The new findings were revealed by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs. The definitive findings will be published next year in a report funded by Historic Scotland.
     The hunters who left behind the flint remains at Howburn came into Scotland in pursuit of game, probably herds of wild horses and reindeer, at a time when the climate improved following the previous severe glacial conditions. Glacial conditions returned again around 13,000 years ago and Scotland was once again depopulated, probably for another 1000 years, after which new groups with different types of flint tools make their appearance.
     The nature of the physical connections made between the peoples in Scotland, Germany and southern Denmark is not yet understood. However the similarity in the design of the tools from the two regions offers tantalising glimpses of connections across what would have been dry land, now drowned by the North Sea.
     Alan Saville, President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Senior Curator, Earliest Prehistory at the National Museums of Scotland and a specialist in the study of flaked flint and stone tools said: "These tools represent a real connection with archaeological finds in north-west Germany, southern Denmark and north-west Holland, a connection not seen elsewhere in Britain at this time. This discovery is both intriguing and revolutionises our ideas about where humans came from in this very early period. In southern Britain, early links are with northern France and Belgium. Howburn is just one chance discovery and further such discoveries will no doubt emerge."

Edited from Historic Scotland (9 April 2014)

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