The Award winning Biggar Archaeology Group (BAG) are now renowned for making significant ancient discoveries about the past in Clydesdale and Tweeddale. New light is annually shed on the people who lived on our local landscapes throughout time.

The earliest people were thought to be the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) hunter-gatherers who first appeared around 10,000 years ago and were the only inhabitants of Scotland for a period of about 4000 years. Such a site has been found by Peeblesshire Archaeology Society beside the Tweed at Manor Valley, and numerous sites have been discovered by BAG in Upper Clydesdale. Small groups or families would simply migrate around the landscape, possibly from coastal sites, following the rivers systems as their routes through the dense woodland which would have prevailed.

A tanged point arrowhead, unique in northern Britain,
but similar to other flint tools found in northern continental Europe.

The woodlands would be home to deer, wild cattle, wild pig, moose, bear, wolves, beaver, lynx and a much larger variety of birds than exists today. One important food resource would have been fish in the rivers and also seasonal fruit with an abundance of hazel nuts. Life was probably good with much more relaxation time than modern humans have and almost certainly less stress.

However, as with all archaeology and even history, the story changes in light of new information. Most readers of this article may be aware of what that new knowledge is, as it has been widely publicised in the national media recently.

People returning to Scotland in the Year of Homecoming are coming back to a country with an extended history, taking us back almost 14,000 years to the last Ice Age. A site has been discovered where people of that time were coming to set up their camps but this period is called the Upper Paleolithic (or late Old Stone Age) and the players in this story were a completely different culture from the later hunter-gatherers. These earlier people were also hunters, but they could not gather seasonal fruit since it had not yet colonised the land. The vegetation at this time was scrub woodland of birch with lots of grass in between. The climate had changed so fast ice melted away rapidly that an arctic tundra type landscape never formed, as it had in other parts of northern ‘Europe’.

These hunters were following large herds of reindeer and horse which would annually migrate across the plains stretching from Ireland to Poland, straight over the area we now know as the North Sea. The animals were migrating here in the summer months and returning to their arctic winter homeland around northern Germany, where the only food stuff for the reindeer was lichen and moss, exactly the same as in modern day Lapland.

All the hunters needed to do was to tag on to the herds and this they did on a seasonal basis, returning each year to the same sites.

For the first time north of the Humber, a site has been found to prove all of this. The place is at Howburn Farm, near Elsrickle and within shouting distance from Peeblesshire. Distinctive types of flint tools have been found which can only belong to these early people; the only other known sites are in Holland, Denmark and Germany. The new discovery is unique in northern Britain.

Co-incidentally, in the same field, all the other pre-historic periods are represented and indeed the BAG has made numerous important discoveries through walking over ploughed fields and excavations in the area. However, this one has everyone flabbergasted, it has long been suspected that these early hunters may have been in Scotland and now at last, here is the proof.

A summer excavation; The Biggar Bigger Dig will take place to find out more and anyone who wishes to join in is invited to this chance in a lifetime, to reach out, find and touch the tools left by Scotland’s earliest inhabitants.

The Group have just launched a new web site where contact may be made and more information can be had.

You are invited to come and live the dream of finding Scotland’s earliest settlers.


Tam Ward

Biggar Archaeology Group

June 2009