Feature

Nov 2012

Ancient History of Scotland

People have lived in Scotland for over 12,000 years, right back to prehistoric times.

The first people

People have lived in Scotland since pre-historic times, over 12,000 years ago. Remains of bloodstone tools and nut processing sites have been found on the West coast and isles. These people had a stone age society but gradually the ancient peoples became farmers, deforesting land for crops and keeping domestic animals.

Maes Howe, Skara Brae and stone circles

In this prehistoric period, people built some of the world's most amazing anicent monuments and tombs. Maes Howe near Stromness on Orkney is a stone built chambered tomb designed so that the sun shines directly down the carefully aligned entrance passageway, flooding the main chamber with light on the winter solstice.

Skara Brae, also on Orkney is an ancient stone built settlement with houses connected by covered passages. Dating back to 3200BC, the houses are remarkably civilised with stone beds and seats.

Between Skara Brae and Maes Howe is the Ring of Brodgar, a stone circle dating back to 2000BC and similar to Stone Henge. No one is sure what stone circles were used for but they may have been used for astronomical observations and rituals.

Celts, Picts and Romans

The Iron age took place in Scotland around 700BC and the native population traded and adopted new technologies. The celtic knotwork and decoration which is still admired today began in this period and the celts loved to decorate metal work and wore colourful clothes and jewellery. The Romans called the tribes of the north 'Caledoni' and named their land Caledonia.

The Picts, known as the 'painted people' were one of the celtic tribes who inhabited Scotland. Named by the Romans, historians think they painted or tattooed their bodies and carved standing stones some of which can still be seen today. The Picts left little evidence behind but many towns in Scotland still have Pictish names: Pittenweem and Pitlochry to name but two.

The tribes in Caledonia resisted Roman invasion and the Romans tried a number of tactics to keep the peace in the north. They built two walls: the Antonine Wall which stretched from the Forth to the Clyde and Hadrian's Wall, both massive undertakings and designed to keep the fierce tribes of Caledonia out of Roman Britain.

Looking at history today

Many of the anicent monuments, fortifications and burial chambers from Scotland's long history can still be seen today. Combined with the traces of more recent history in castles, statues, battlegrounds and architecture, looking at the history of Scotland is a fascinating perspective for the tourist or amateur historian. With so many thousands of years of human activity available layered one on top of another, there are few places in the world which can compare with Scotland for the breadth of history and the quality of the archaeological evidence.

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