Mesolithic to Neolithic transition – have we got it?

Well, we think we might have finally cracked the search for the Mesolithic to Neolithic transition. We have five sites at Daer where elements of both periods have been found more or less together. The last site, where we got pottery and microliths, seemed to be the best, however the point could still be argued there.

Site No 89, which we had abandoned and returned to, has produced the goods. We found lots of chert, as usual, several nice microliths in the furrow, and a few bits of pitchstone – just enough to tantalise. Now, however, we have found a charcoal patch of ground with Early Neolithic pottery, quite a lot of pitchstone, a fine flint and several chert microliths and chert cores, all wrapped together. Along side these we got some small bits of haematite – one piece which has been facetted by use. This particular find is convincing evidence of haematite being used as a colouring agent in the Meso/Neo period, another first for us and maybe Scotland?

Early Neolithic Potery with rolled rim
Early Neolithic Potery with rolled rim

These large rim sherds of classic Early Neolithic (EN) carinated bowl was found with other pottery on a site with Mesolithic microliths, the microliths were found in an old ground surface which was adajcent to an area which had been cleared of soil and upon which the Early Neolithic material was found, this is interpreted as the EN people clearing away the Mesolithic soil for their habitation.

The concentration of the finds is extremely good evidence that the same people left everything, and we think they were both hunters and farmers.

Early Neolithic Pottery sherds
Early Neolithic Pottery sherds

The smaller sherds were found on another site but this time within the same context; a discrete patch of charcoal enriched soil which also had a mass of struck chert, cores and microliths from the earlier period, and pitchstone and pottery from the later time. Hazel nut shell was present in the charcoal and this will be radio carbon dated. Interestingly and unusually, the sherd on the rhs has a flat topped rim, most EN pottery has a rolled or rounded rim.

The most recent excavation brought up another concentration of chert debitage, a couple of microliths and lots of core material. As is always the way, just before knocking off for the weekend, a fireplace turns up lying only 0.5m away. Imagining someone knapping by the fire, we’ll be looking for their knapping partner at the other side of the fireplace this weekend! It’s all very exciting

Our next task is to complete all the work at the north end of the hill and continue to explore and find the best sites. From here we’ll work our way back to the start doing cairns and sampling fires and burnt mounds as we go. With a couple of pottery sites to look at there is still a lot to play for. Work will continue throughout the winter as and when weather permits, but we desperately need more help for this important contribution to Scottish archaeology. To do some voluntary archaeology with us – use our contact form to note your interest. We’re normally out every weekend, weather permitting, but get in touch first – that way we can make sure you get access to the site.

Daer will be famous for its Mesolithic sites, but now for the first time we have the Early Neolithic for sure, the map is getting very busy up there and we still have a lot of ground to look at. Our thanks go to all those who have volunteered so far, for being part of this important work.

Do you have some hours spare at the weekend and would like to help explore Scotland’s pre-history. Get in touch and find out how you can help.

Read our previous Daer Updates