How did Late Upper Palaeolithic reindeer hunters live?

Reindeer migration
Reindeer migration

The full essay in pdf  attempts to understand aspects of the lifestyles of the Late Upper Palaeolithic (LUP) people who arrived for seasonal camps at Howburn Farm near Biggar, and who are assumed to have been following and living off the seasonal migrations of reindeer travelling from the region of southern Denmark and northern Germany, crossing the area now inundated as the North Sea and possibly reaching as far west as Ireland. The evidence for these people who came to Scotland between the ‘Hamburgian and Federmesser’ periods, consists exclusively of stone tools and the raw materials and debitage from their making, such is the scant nature of organic survival in Scottish acidic soils. Therefore dating is by typology of lithic comparing to sites in Europe, where however, other dating methods have been available. The period is around 14,500 years ago, before the Holocene and after the last main Ice Age which demised c15500 years ago, but prior to the so called Loch Lomond Re-Advance which ended c11,000 years ago, after which we enter the Mesolithic period in Scotland. The reader is referred to the single current book on the subject which deals with the Howburn site (Ballin et al 2018) where finer details of this study are given professionally, and also to articles written by the writer and which can be found on the Pre-history North of Biggar pages.

The evidence in Scotland

For many years it was tentatively assumed that a few stray(?) finds and a site near Oban indicated that such evidence did exist, but few archaeologists were prepared to put their heads above the parapet and declare it. The conclusive evidence comes in the form of distinctive tool types, most especially projectiles; probably arrows and known as tanged points. Scrapers, piercers, burins and knives make up the remaining principal suite of tool types, while other distinctive items can be recognised such as Zinkens, becs, combined tools, and usually, a large quantity of pieces showing modification (retouched edges) and known as ‘backed pieces’, many of which may have been discarded as soon as they were made while others may be from broken tools, finally there are the cores from which blades were struck and the mass of debitage resulting from the tool making process, all of this was found at Howburn. The writer is not competent to discuss the lithic assemblage with any detail and reference should be made to the publication already referred to.

It all began a long time ago as single tools were found; tanged points, two in Orkney and others in the western islands and even a scraper in the middle of the North Sea west of Shetland! the realisation began to emerge that pre Mesolithic people may have visited the land mass we know as Scotland. A site near Oban known as Kilmelfort Cave (Ballin and Saville 2009) supplied a suite of finds which did not concord with current thinking at the time of excavation in 1956 and was suspected as being earlier in character to what was expected in the Mesolithic, still assumed by most to be the earliest human occupation of the country. Re-assessment of the finds by Ballin and Saville (ibid) concluded the site was indeed earlier and fitted the LUP but in the Federmesser period of the 12th millennia BP, and slightly later than Howburn.

It was only when the Howburn finds were examined by the same two lithics experts that proof positive was declared that the Lanarkshire site was definitely Late Upper Palaeolithic, and furthermore belonging to the later Hamburgian period, making the location unique in Britain and the earliest recorded site in Scotland, the late Alan Saville declared simply “at last” and put an end to speculation if such a site did exist in Scotland. The period is estimated to be over circa 14,000 years ago.

At the same time as the Howburn Project was under way by Biggar Archaeology Group (BAG), the Kilmelfort Cave site assemblage was being re-examined (Ballin & Saville 2009, ibid ) and in 2018 a further site has been discovered at Milltimber near Aberdeen (Headland 2019) all of which now adds the metaphorical flesh to the archaeological bones of Howburn {no bones were found there}.

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