Case Study: Kinloch, Rùm

Susan Kruse with contributions from Caroline Wickham-Jones

The small island of Rùm, one of the Small Isles to the south of Skye, was the first detailed excavation of a Mesolithic site in the Highlands. Excavations in the 1980s at Kinloch Farm (MHG3987) revealed an extensive settlement, at the time providing an earlier date for human activity and more northerly location than had been thought existed. The site included arcs of stakeholes, and slots, presumed to be the foundations of shelters, as well as hearths, and numerous pits. The site was used over a long period, including into the Bronze Age. Most of the evidence is for Mesolithic occupation. It has been interpreted as a base camp.

Although organic material did not survive well, there was a large lithic collection of over 140,000 pieces, showing that both the manufacture and use of stone tools had taken place there. Flint was used, but the main raw material was bloodstone, which was available on the west of the island. Bloodstone artefacts are found elsewhere on the mainland, showing movement by boat from Rùm of artefacts or raw material. There was a range of artefacts made, including narrow-bladed microliths. The definitions of microlith types developed when analysing the material from the site have subsequently been applied to a number of other Scottish sites, for example Sand.

Although organic material did not survive, carbonised hazelnuts were found in some quantities, providing evidence of food. Pollen sampling was also undertaken, allowing the local environment to be reconstructed. The relative sea-level during the Mesolithic was lower than it is today.

Radiocarbon dating was relatively novel at the time of excavation, and the series of dates were made mainly on hazelnut shells. They show activity at the site over a long period of time, probably episodic, but from the Early Mesolithic Period, in the 8th millennium BC, one of the earliest dates for Mesolithic occupation in the Highlands.

The site is important as one of the first investigated with modern techniques, showing not only lithic working, but also ephemeral evidence of structures. Its evidence allows a picture to be drawn of the wider Mesolithic in the region, with sites such as Oronsay to the south and Sand to the north.

Further information

Wickham-Jones, Caroline R 1990 Rhum: Mesolithic and later sites at Kinloch, Excavations 1984-86, Society of Antiquaries of Scotland (Monograph 7): Edinburgh.