The Mesolithic - c9000-4000BC
to the wealth of material for later periods of prehistory, the evidence
of the human inhabitants of Orkney during the Mesolithic period
The people of the Mesolithic were nomadic hunter-gatherers,
living in small groups and shifting according the season and the
availability of food supplies. This, along with the fact that they did not leave stone constructions such as Skara Brae or Maeshowe, means that they have left little trace for the modern archaeologist.
Although we know that these wandering hunters
crossed from Scotland into Orkney, it was not clear when, until the discovery of a charred hazelnut shell in 2007. The shell was recovered during the excavations at Longhowe, in Tankerness, and was carbon dated to 6820-6660 BC, showing that people were in the islands around
7,000 BC, some time after the ice sheets had retreated north and
the climate improved.
At this time, however, the wooded landscape of Orkney would
have been unrecognisable to modern Orcadians. The sea-level was
considerably lower - up to 30 metres lower - so today's green, rolling Orkney hills would
have been the peaks of high ground.
What the Mesolithic hunters would
have regarded as lowland areas are now under metres of water - a fact
that goes some way to explains the lack of archaeological evidence.
Whenever they arrived in Orkney, it is doubtful
that they settled in one place for any length of time. Their survival depended on hunting and gathering
food, so when one supply ran out they moved elsewhere. As a result,
they left no tangible buildings or objects, other than a handful
of stone flakes, as evidence of their movement.
Instead, they existed much as the nomadic cultures
of the world still do today - living in temporary shelters that
could be easily dismantled and transported between sites.
off the land, gathering roots, berries and shellfish and hunting
birds and animals in a land recently emerging from an icy sleep.