During the last ice age, Scotland was likely a desolate place covered by glaciers, but new evidence suggests intrepid settlers braved the elements by establishing a community there as early as 13,000 years ago.
The determination, published in the latest British Archaeology
, further suggests the earliest Scots
shared a common ancestor with the first Norwegians, meaning that some people of Scottish descent could be distantly related to modern Norwegians
"So often we hear that conditions in Scotland during the late Paleolithic and early Mesolithic would have prohibited human settlements because the landscape was cold and icy, but now we have to wonder what was actually going on and why people appear to have been living in the area during what is thought to have been a glacial period," Naomi Woodward, who led the project, told Discovery News.
Woodward, an archaeologist at Orkney College, and her team launched a field survey in April on the island of Stronsay, Orkney
, in the north of Scotland. There they excavated two broken flint points, which either served as arrowheads
or spear tips.
The points match others found at early Scottish sites, and they also match points, discovered in what is now northern Germany, dating to even earlier time periods. The Stronsay points date to around 13,000 years ago, and likely predate an 8,500 B.C. Edinburgh hunting campsite, previously thought to have been Scotland’s oldest settlement.
According to Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology, the points represented high technology for prehistoric hunters.
"They’re called tanged points because they have a tang, or notch, that would have gone into a slot on a stick," he explained. "Fine thread bound them to the stick, and the connection would have been secured with resin, serving as glue."
The northern European plains location suggests Scotland’s first settlers were reindeer hunters from the Ahrensburgian culture. Reindeer exist
in Scotland, but the researchers suspect the hunters also went after more prevalent deer and other large herbivores. If attached to spears, the points could have also been used to stab fish and marine life.
She told Discovery News the points add to "a package" of flint weaponry findings from other early sites, such as Tiree and Wester Ross on Scotland’s west coast.
Sea level was much lower at the time, and other researchers have found entirely submerged forests and valleys around Scotland.
Wickham-Jones suspects the Ahrenburgians hunted mammals and tapped marine resources, island hopping and moving by boat around the region. A more northerly trip likely took them to Norway, where they are believed to have established yet another settlement.
"It is probable then that some Scottish individuals share common ancestors with the Norwegians," Wickham-Jones said, adding that the discovery suggests early settlers did not just come up to Scotland from England, bringing their culture with them.
Instead, Scotland appears to have, at least in some areas, "developed its own unique identity," based on the early Ahrenburgian inhabitants, which seem to have first settled at Stronsay.
The finds may also explain the island’s attraction and the origin of the name Stronsay, which means "Star Island" in Old Norse.
"The island juts out in points so, to the early boaters, it would have looked like an actual star," Woodward said.