How did the early settlers to the Borders carve out their existence before the comfort, knowledge and expertise that we have today? Who were these people and how did they live and develop in this unsympathetic landscape?

12,000 years ago ‘hunter- gatherers’ occupied the land. They relied heavily on each other for survival.  Teamwork was needed to trap their food.  They hunted together, forcing animals into spaces where they could be trapped and killed. People were organised into Bands of approximately 100 individuals.  Leadership in such a group would have been decided on the basis of age and kinship.  Some of the their tools have survived.  They used bows and spears to hunt at both short and long range.  Plants were also vital for survival and the Scottish borders had many ancient wild varieties of the fruit and vegetables that we enjoy today. Seaweeds may have been part of their staple diet in coastal areas.  This combination of hunter-gathering with agriculture permitted survival of our forebears. Also interesting was their practice of dealing with their dead.   They did not bury their dead but left their bodies out on a raised platform to the mercy of the elements.

Woodland was cleared for agriculture approximately 6000 years ago and early farming began.  The hunting of wild cattle, pigs and goat was combined with various types of wheat and cereals, peas and beans. Grains were crushed between two stones to make flour.  At first these stones were flat or dished saddle querns but in time the idea of rotary querns was conceived enabling the process to be operated on a millstone principle. Farmers created tilths, prepared soil for farming or formed narrow cultivation ridges known as cord rig. Some of the best examples are at Hownam. Crop rotation ensured productivity. Success was interdependent on animals for

As knowledge and population increased so did the organisation of the early farming communities. The few thousand individuals in a Tribe developed to many thousand and the Tribe developed into a Chiefdom.  Leadership was decided through ability as well as age and kinship with their predecessor. Fighting ability would have been paramount to secure the confidence of the people.  Axes were symbols of power and status but these may have been more for display rather than use.  These chiefdoms depended on the protection of the hill forts. We can see examples of in a variety of Border locations today.  The stone broch towers and duns, the best displays of personal power in the region, would have been imported as they are not typical of the region.  This offers an insight into the ambition of those that lived here.

From c.AD 79 until the 3rd Century, the Borders formed part of the Roman Empire, but there is evidence that the Borders returned to the social organisation of Chiefdoms upon the Roman withdrawal. The Borders was sandwiched between Hadrian’s Wall and the wall of Antonius Pius towards the Firth of Forth. Many coins and objects have been discovered indicating that there was

The Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, saw the introduction of new technology and more effective tools.  Simple axes, daggers and awls were cast in flat moulds and in time composite moulds provided a greater range of equipment. More sophisticated castings were made for sheet bronze shields, three of which were found in Yetholm.

The existence of iron ore in bogs increased the knowledge of iron working. Many new skills were learned and incorporated into the workings of these communities.  The introduction of the lathe for wood turning added to the skills.

As knowledge and population increased so did the organisation of the early farming communities. The few thousand individuals in a Tribe developed to many thousand and the Tribe developed into a Chiefdom.  Leadership was decided through ability as well as age and kinship with their predecessor. Fighting ability would have been paramount to secure the confidence of the people.  Axes were symbols of power and status but these may have been more for display rather than use.  These chiefdoms depended on the protection of the hill forts. We can see examples of in a variety of Border locations today.  The stone broch towers and duns, the best displays of personal power in the region, would have been imported as they are not typical of the region.  This offers an insight into the ambition of those that lived here.

From c.AD 79 until the 3rd Century, the Borders formed part of the Roman Empire, but there is evidence that the Borders returned to the social organisation of Chiefdoms upon the Roman withdrawal. The Borders was sandwiched between Hadrian’s Wall and the wall of Antonius Pius towards the Firth of Forth. Many coins and objects have been discovered indicating that there was trading.  Anglican supremacy reigned during the 6th and 7th Centuries and the kingdom of Bernicia is known to have been a complex chiefdom.

Chiefdoms held more complex ceremonies for their dead.  Large scale monuments in clearings were constructed in alignment with the stars. An example of this can be found at Meldon Bridge, Lyne, where the Tweed and the Lyne Rivers meet.  Two very large standing stones mark the point of burial monuments. Circular earthworks, or henges depended on the teamwork of many individuals over some time. Some have been found at Mellerstain (Earlston) which is in alignment with Brotherstone Hill (Mertoun/Smailholm). Later burials indicate that the popularity of the individual burial had increased. The dead were buried alongside possessions such as decorated pottery vases.  These were usually covered in mounds and were in prominent positions. Such graves have been found at White Meldon (Eddleston).

This astrological alignment and prominence of position lead onto the interesting exploration of belief and worship among the Early Settlers. Having so far investigated their social organisation, I will exploring their beliefs and worship in the next issue.

 

Maggie Rait