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30 March 2015
Late Mesolithic finds in the Scottish Borders

During the Scottish Lithic Scatters Project in the 1990s, an early prehistoric site was discovered by Chris Barrowman at Garvald Burn, near Dolphinton, in the Scottish Borders. Subsequent investigation yielded a chronologically mixed assemblage of 1,562 stone artefacts.
     The site as a whole revealed almost no features, but in one specific area a number were uncovered, including a hearth and a windbreak. This area also yielded 587 pieces of worked stone, dominated by chert. This assemblage indicate a Late Mesolithic date, and radiocarbon-dating of a charcoal sample from a post-hole within the windbreak supports this, returning a date between 4350 and 4000 BCE.
     The settlers were hunter-gatherers, and sites would have been selected based on where prey could be encountered, vegetable matter gathered, and the proximity of river courses and small streams for drinking water, fishing, and transport.
     A small domestic hearth was identified, associated with a relatively 'flimsy' structure thought to be an expedient windbreak. Sheltered by this, and immediately next to the hearth, a relatively dense knapping floor was identified, associated with primary production, retooling and the production or repair of implements in wood, bone or antler. The character of the features, as well as the small size of the lithic assemblage and its composition, suggests this may have been a transit camp for one or two hunters, or at most a small group.
     Within Late Mesolithic southern Scotland, the composition of assemblages vary depending on location. Chert was abundantly available throughout the region, but there are no indications of chert having been exchanged outside the immediate territory. The same seems to have been true for coastal flint, which was transported along rivers to groups living relatively near the coasts. Where flint was readily available, it was favoured.
     Flint dominates the eastern and western seaboards, and chert the central parts of southern Scotland. At the mid-point, such as at Starr and Smittons in the interior parts of East Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway, chert and flint were used in roughly equal measures. The assemblage from Garvald Burn, approximately 80 to 100 kilometres from the eastern and western shores, and roughly 30 kilometres from the Firth of Forth, is almost exclusively chert, probably gathered from the banks of the burn.

Edited from Past Horizons (10 March 2015)

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