5.1 Introduction

In common with other parts of Scotland, Highland Region witnessed a significant change around 3800 BC with the appearance of a wholly new way of life, whose subsistence strategy was based on cultivating cereals and keeping domesticated animals. This novel lifestyle was accompanied by other striking novelties:

  • megalithic monuments (initially in the west), built to house and commemorate the dead
  • a wholly new technology: pottery manufacture
  • ground (and sometimes polished) stone axe and adze heads, including some very special examples that originated in the north Italian Alps
  • other novel practices and ways of making sense of the world.

Thanks to ancient DNA (aDNA) analysis undertaken since the national ScARF Neolithic section was published in 2012, archaeologists can now confirm that these changes were indeed the result of the arrival of immigrants from continental Europe (Sheridan 2010a), and not their adoption by indigenous Late Mesolithic groups, as others have claimed (eg Thomas 2013).

The arrival, possibly as early as 2500 BC, of further Continental immigrants, as attested by DNA analysis of a young female buried at Achavanich (Hoole et al 2018; Case Study Ava Bronze Age Burial), who brought further novelties, including knowledge of metal, is conventionally regarded as marking the end of the Neolithic period. What happened between c 4000 BC and c 2500 BC is summarised below, but first it is necessary to briefly review the history of research into the Neolithic period of the Highland Region.

5.1.1 History of Research into the Neolithic in the Highland Region

Historically, most attention has been paid to the megalithic monuments of the Neolithic period (Datasheet 5.5), with Caithness being a focus of early fieldwork, initially by Alexander Henry Rhind (1833–63). Rhind excavated four chambered cairns around the Loch of Yarrows; Warehouse South (MHG2099), North (MHG2212) and East (MHG2110) and McColes’ Castle (MHG 2211) in the summer of 1853. This was largely in the hope of ‘securing some tolerable specimens’ of human skulls for a comparative anthropological study by the craniologists Davis and Thurnam, who were compiling their Crania Britannica publication at the time (Rhind 1854). He was, sadly, unsuccessful in this quest and the human remains that he did excavate have been lost. After Rhind’s untimely death, Robert Innes Shearer and Joseph Anderson continued his project around the Loch of Yarrows and at Camster, excavating eight chambered cairns and exploring a ninth in 1865, and excavating three more and exploring a fourth in 1866 (Anderson 1886). Again, sadly, the human remains from these excavations have not survived. Even the calcined human remains found at Ormiegill, reportedly presented to the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland in 1871 by the Anthropological Society of London (Anderson 1870–72, 246), cannot now be located and are suspected to have been lost during various moves of the NMAS collections during the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Sheridan 2020a).

Around a century later, excavations were undertaken at several chambered cairns in the Highlands. On the Black Isle, Anthony Woodham and his wife Maisie excavated Carn Glas passage tomb, Kilcoy, in 1955 (MHG9014; Woodham and Woodham 1957) and Kilcoy South passage tomb in 1957 and 1958 (MHG9017; Woodham 1956). They then excavated another chambered cairn at Tomfat in Strathnairn in 1963 (MHG3519; Woodham and Woodham 1964). At Embo, Sutherland, rescue excavation of a dual passage tomb threatened by the construction of a car park was undertaken by Audrey Henshall and James Wallace in 1960 (MHG11630; Henshall and Wallace 1963), following Henshall’s earlier investigation of an Early Bronze Age cist set into the cairn in 1956 (Henshall and Taylor 1957). In 1961, John Corcoran excavated three passage tombs around Loch Calder, at Tulloch of Assery A and B and Tulach an t’Sionnaich, Caithness, in advance Loch Calder’s inundation when being made into a reservoir (MHG981; MHG932; MHG926; Corcoran 1966). Corcoran went on to excavate passage tombs at Balvraid, Lochalsh in 1965 (MHG5357; Henshall and Ritchie 2001, 230–2) and at Ord North, Sutherland in 1967 (MHG11983; Sharples 1981). He also excavated the long horned cairn at Camster Long, Caithness, one of the monuments that had previously been investigated by Anderson and Shearer in 1886, in 1971–3. After Corcoran’s death, Lionel Masters continued excavations in Camster in 1976–80 (MHG1809; Masters 1997). More recently, between 2006 and 2014, Oliver Harris (et al 2010) has excavated a Clyde type cairn, Cladh Aindreis (MHG459), on the Ardnamurchan peninsula and amateur archaeologist George Kozikowski excavated a chamber tomb at Strathglebe on Skye (MHG5316) between 2016 and 2019 (Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018).

Drone photograph of the partially-inundated passage tombs at Tulloch of Assery A (right) and B (left), Loch Calder, Caithness. ©Cameron Law

The chambered cairns of the Highland Region were also the subject of Henshall’s magisterial survey of this monument type, first during the 1960s as part of her nationwide survey (Henshall 1963; 1972), and then again during the 1980s and 1990s, the results of which are published in a series of books (Davidson and Henshall 1991; Henshall and Ritchie 1995; 2001). These publications provide an invaluable account of the various explorations and excavations that have taken place, along with details of the finds and definitive descriptions of the monuments and their distribution.

Other kinds of Neolithic site in the Highland Region have traditionally received much less attention and targeted fieldwork, as they have been found mostly by chance. Although note Roger Mercer’s systematic field surveys in the north (eg Mercer 1980). Neolithic artefacts have generally been stray finds, or found during excavations of later sites, or during surveys such as the Scotland’s First Settlers project for instance (Hardy and Wickham-Jones 2009; Case Study: Scotland’s First Settlers). On Canna, the Middle Neolithic settlement at Beinn Tighe was discovered as a result of rabbit damage, and it was then the subject of a small-scale excavation by Jill Harden and Thistle Camp participants for the National Trust for Scotland in 2006 (MHG5560; Case Study Archaeological Work by the NTS in the Highlands).

The Late Neolithic rectangular timber structure at Stoneyfield, Raigmore, was discovered during rescue excavations in 1972–3 when a Clava ring cairn on the same spot was due to be demolished by construction of the road to Kessock Bridge (MHG45837; Simpson 1996a; Case Study Raigmore (Stoneyfield) Cair). A further timber structure and some other settlement evidence was excavated at Kinbeachie on the Black Isle after finds found while ploughing were reported to archaeologists (MHG58909; Barclay et al 2001; Case Study Kinbeachie Neolithic Settlement).

The growth of developer-funded archaeology, particularly from the 1990s, particularly in and around Inverness, is responsible for much of the Neolithic settlement evidence currently at our disposal. The Middle Neolithic settlement at Milton of Leys, for example, was found in advance of a housing development on the southern outskirts of Inverness between 1998 and 2000 (MHG54230; Conolly and MacSween 2003), while the Neolithic settlements at Culduthel have been found through further development and infrastructure work (eg Murray 2007; 2008;  2010b; 2011; Peteranna 2011a; Malone and Young 2019; MHG51630).  

Research on artefacts found in Highland Region has historically principally focussed on pottery and on specific categories of stone artefacts. Henshall’s exemplary recording of Neolithic pottery from chamber tombs as part of her surveys provides invaluable information and much-needed illustrations of pottery from these contexts. The carved stone balls from the Region were listed by Dorothy Marshall (1977; 1983) in her overall survey of this artefact type and more recent work is noted below. Stone axeheads have been the subject of research by the Implement Petrology Committee of the Council for British Archaeology (now the Implement Petrology Group), with a compendium of results of petrological research being published in 1988 (Ritchie and Scott 1988; Clough and Cummins 1988, 234–245; see also Ritchie 1968 and Sheridan 1986). Ritchie and Scott’s article sets out the history and rationale of the study of stone axeheads in Scotland to 1988. Axeheads of Alpine rock have been thoroughly researched and sourced by the international French-led Projet JADE (Sheridan and Pailler 2012; Pétrequin et al 2017a, plates 3–5; 2017b). Maceheads have featured in Fiona Roe’s (1968; 1979) nationwide survey of this artefact type and finds of Arran pitchstone have been listed by Torben Ballin in his overall survey of pitchstone use (Ballin 2009).

5.1.2 Recent Developments

Much has changed in our understanding of the Neolithic period in the Highland Region since the publication of the national ScARF Neolithic section:

  • Targeted fieldwork at Uamh Mhór, Cove, by Stephanie Piper and colleagues from Newcastle University, as part of the Coastal Archaeology and Erosion in Wester Ross Project, has produced evidence for Early Neolithic activity as well as a dispersed burnt mound of probable Chalcolithic or Early Bronze Age date (Piper et al 2019; Piper forthcoming). Likewise, on the coast of Easter Ross, the systematic fieldwalking undertaken by the Tarradale Archaeological Project has recovered lithic evidence for Neolithic activity, as well as evidence for Mesolithic and post-Neolithic activity (Ballin forthcoming).
  • The discovery of a stone with an incised Late Neolithic design at Arisaig, on the Rhu peninsula (MHG56817; Bowker 2014), that is very reminiscent of carvings seen at Ness of Brodgar and at other Late Neolithic Orcadian sites, has further informed archaeologists about the network of connections that existed along the west coast.
  • The discovery of a slab of stone, later reused as a cist slab, at Drumnadrochit (McLaren 2019), with incised lozenge designs reminiscent of those seen on early Orcadian Grooved Ware and on Orcadian stones, and the discovery of Grooved Ware at various sites in Highland Region provides yet more information about the interchange of ideas along the network of contacts linking Highland Region and Orkney.
  • The amateur excavation of an entirely new kind of Neolithic chamber tomb at Strathglebe on Skye between 2016 and 2019 by the late George Kozikowski, greatly assisted by Martin Wildgoose, has produced invaluable evidence for the Neolithic inhabitants of Skye (MHG5316; Wildgoose and Kozikowski 2018). Ongoing post-excavation work funded by a generous benefactor and co-ordinated by Alison Sheridan is maximising the information yield from the human remains and artefacts.
  • Radiocarbon dating of human remains from several funerary monuments has helped to establish a regional typochronology of these sites (Sheridan and Schulting 2020). This work has confirmed the existence of a Neolithic megalithic funerary monument, Ackergill Mound (MHG2136) first investigated in 1902 by Francis Tress Barry but subsequently neglected (Sheridan et al 2019, 234). It has also broadened our understanding of the range of funerary practices in this part of Scotland (Sheridan et al 2018, 7; Sánchez-Quinto et al 2019).
  • Research carried out for the Highland Archaeological Research Framework by Alison Sheridan has revealed that the 1985 fieldwork by members of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland at Cairn of Get (Garrywhin) passage tomb (MHG2210) recovered numerous animal bones and some human bones. These are still to be sorted and studied, but they offer an invaluable source of information, not least for dating the use of this monument.
  • DNA analysis of the human remains from passage tombs around Loch Calder has enhanced our understanding of the genetic history of Highland Region’s Neolithic inhabitants (Sheridan et al 2018, 6–9; Olalde et al 2018; Brace et al 2019).
    • Further DNA analysis of the individuals from these passage tombs is being planned by Vicki Cummings of the University of Central Lancashire.
    • Isotopic analysis has been done by a team from the University of Aberdeen, led by Kate Britton on the adult and juvenile buried in the Balintore cist.
    • Mike Richards (University of British Columbia) had previously undertaken strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of individuals from Tulach an t’Sionnaich.
    • Carbon and nitrogen analysis utilised for the dietary reconstruction of individuals from the Loch Calder passage tombs was undertaken by Rick Schulting (Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.5).
    • Nicky Milner and Oliver Craig ran carbon, nitrogen and sulphur analysis of human remains from the midden inside the An Corran rock shelter (Milner and Craig 2012; Case Study An Corran).
  • A thorough osteological examination of the human remains from Embo chambered cairn by Aida Romera has clarified the age range and sex of the individuals buried there and has shed new light on their palaeopathology (Romera and Sheridan forthcoming).
  • Dental microwear analysis by Rowan McLaughlin (Queen’s University of Belfast) on an adult male buried at Rattar East chambered cairn, and on individuals buried at Tulloch of Assery B, Tulach an t’Sionnaich and Embo, has revealed evidence relating to the nature of their diets (McLaughlin 2008).
  • Osteological examination of the human remains from the Loch Calder passage tombs by Kelsey Yohe for her master’s research (University of Aberdeen) has revealed two bones with chop marks, from Tulloch of Assery A and B. It is thought that a chop make on the humerus is related to inter-personal violence, while the other chop mark to the femur could relate to the defleshing or dismemberment of the dead (Yohe 2019).
  • A reassessment of Scottish Neolithic pottery has clarified the typochronology of Neolithic pottery in this part of Scotland, and has contextualised it within a broader picture (Sheridan 2016). Meanwhile Mike Copper’s Tracing the Lines project on radiocarbon dating Grooved Ware pottery has produced a date for the Grooved Ware from Raigmore, and a date for the Impressed Ware pottery at Milton of Leys, formerly claimed to be Grooved Ware (Case Study: Tracing the Lines; Case Study Raigmore (Stoneyfield) Cairn; Copper et al 2018; 2019; 2021).
  • Torben Ballin has explored the exploitation of specific non-flint rock types in the west of the Highland Region, including Rùm bloodstone (Ballin 2018; Ballin and Grant 2020). Ballin (forthcoming) has also reported on several lithic assemblages, including the multi-period assemblage from the field-walking project at Tarradale.
  • John Barber’s experimental construction and destruction of a part of a chambered cairn has informed our interpretation of the taphonomy of human remains and artefactual finds in such monuments (Heald and Barber 2015, 36–9).
  • Richard Bradley (et al 2017) has reassessed the finds from Littleferry in terms of his model of ‘coastal havens’ – places where people from different areas came together to exchange items and to socialise (Case Study Littleferry Links).
  • 3D photogrammetric models of several carved stone balls found in Highland Region have been made by Hugo Anderson-Whymark, and the Region’s carved stone balls have been included in PhD research by Christopher Stewart-Moffatt.
  • Scotland’s Rock Art Project (ScRAP) has been investigating rock art in the Highland Region as part of its nationwide survey.
  • Finally, work has been undertaken by Candy Hatherley and Ross Murray of Headland Archaeology to publish some of the developer-funded excavation undertaken at Culduthel in 2005, has been published (Hatherley and Murray 2021). Another, on the 2006 excavations is well advanced (Hatherley forthcoming).

Despite these developments, however, there still remain major gaps in our knowledge of the Neolithic period in the Highland Region, and much research remains to be undertaken on the artefacts that have been found. Before considering these, the key characteristics of the Neolithic period in Highland Region as they are currently understood can be summarised as follows:

5.1.3 Beginnings: The Appearance of Farmers, the ‘Mesolithic–Neolithic Transition’ and Subsequent Developments to c 3500 BC

This part of Scotland is likely to have been affected by two ‘strands’ of immigration, one from the Morbihan region of Brittany, as indicated by the megalithic closed chambers and simple passage tombs at Greadal Fhinn (MHG70) and Rahoy (MHG488) and the other from the Nord-Pas de Calais region of northern France. This second immigration is associated with the Carinated Bowl ceramic tradition and the use of long mounds for funerary monuments. Inverness appears to have been an early focus of settlement activity by the incoming ‘Carinated Bowl Neolithic’ people. These people appear to have broken and burnt a precious axehead of jadeitite, originating from the North Italian Alps and likely brought over with them from northern France, which was found at Inverness Railway Store (MHG3831).

The rapid north-easterly spread of the groups who built passage tombs from their initial arrival areas on the west coast, and the rapid spread of the users of Carinated Bowl pottery from where they arrived in northeast Scotland to further north, can be traced. For example, recent Bayesian modelling of the dates for unburnt human bones from  ‘Orkney-Cromarty’ passage tombs in Caithness suggests that passage tomb use had spread to this part of the Region by 3840–3645 BC (Sheridan and Schulting 2020, 201). A process of regional diversification in passage tomb design can be traced across the region, with Rubha’ an Dùnain on Skye (MHG4901) being an Outer Hebrides-style passage tomb, and with many of the Orkney-Cromarty passage tombs showing strong design connections between the northern mainland and Orkney.

Also attested is the practice of burial in a cave. This was not a feature of either the Breton or the Carinated Bowl tradition, nor was it a Mesolithic practice in Scotland. DNA analysis of individuals buried in the caves around Oban has shown that those people were indeed descended from continental immigrants (Bownes 2018; Knight et al 2020).

In the Highland Region there was a fascinating interplay between the people associated with these two ‘strands’ of the Neolithic over the succeeding centuries. This can be seen in the superimposition of a long mound, a monument format associated with the Carinated Bowl Neolithic, on passage tombs whose ‘ancestry’ lies in the Breton, Atlantic tradition for example at Camster Long (MHG1809; Masters 1997).

Various themes can be discerned in the growing body of evidence concerning the Neolithic Highland region. They include:

  • the close connections that existed, and persisted, between the northern mainland and Orkney
  • movement of objects, ideas and people over extensive and rapidly-established networks of contacts
  • a process of competitive and conspicuous consumption in monument construction, most clearly expressed in the construction of massive, long horned cairns, probably dated to between 3600 and 3500 BC
  • the importance of seaborne travel down both the west and east coasts
  • the variability in material culture and monuments over the large area occupied by Highland Region. For example, the presence of a precious and prestigious jet ‘monster bead’ in Strathglebe chamber tomb, possibly dating to around 3600 BC, hints at some social differentiation.

The question of how these incoming farmers related to the indigenous hunter-fisher-forager communities, and for how long the lifestyle of the latter persisted or survived after the arrival of farmers, is one of the key outstanding research questions. Unlike at Raschoille Cave near Oban, Argyll and Bute, there is no DNA evidence indicating genetic miscegenation between the two populations, nor are there artefact assemblages or sites attesting to the adoption and/or adaptation of elements of either group’s lifestyle or material culture. No Mesolithic style lithic assemblage in the Region is known to post-date c 4000 BC. On a broader scale, the DNA evidence for elsewhere in Scotland and the rest of Britain suggests that indigenous Mesolithic bloodlines effectively died out (Brace et al 2019). It may be that, as suggested in Chapter 4, the indigenous population was very small and sparsely distributed and its members rapidly acculturated to the novel lifestyle, their genetic signature getting drowned out by the larger numbers of the farmers (Booth 2019). The absence of any Mesolithic human remains in the Region makes a direct comparison of the indigenous population with that of the incomers impossible.

5.1.4 The Middle Neolithic, c 3500 BC to c 3000 BC 

Continuity of occupation in the Inverness area is attested over this period, as is continuity in agricultural activity at Lairg (McDonald et al 2021). Evidence for both sites can be found in the manufacture of pottery in the Carinated Bowl tradition and in the practice of cave burial. It is unclear whether any chamber tombs were built as late as this, but there is good evidence, from the dating of human remains from Embo passage tomb and Strathglebe chamber tomb, that the dead were still being buried in some of them. Regional diversification in ceramic styles can be seen, reflecting the strength of contacts between people in different parts of the Highland Region with others to the north, south and west of Scotland. A style of pottery commonly known as Impressed Ware, featuring the use of impressed decoration, had emerged by around 3300 to 3200 BC if not earlier. A jet belt slider from Skye and a partial slider from Fendom Sands near Tain (Section, attest to some degree of social differentiation in the period from 3300 to 2900 BC as these would have been status symbols.

5.1.5 The Later Neolithic and the Neolithic–Chalcolithic Transition, c 3000 to c 2500 BC

In Orkney, momentous social changes had been occurring since c 3100 BC among the prosperous, ambitious and socially differentiated farming community there. Some people in Highland Region no doubt visited Orkney for its midwinter solstice celebrations, admiring monuments such as the Stones of Stenness stone circle and henge and the other imposing examples of Orcadian stone architecture such as at Ness of Brodgar. Some of them chose to adopt the trappings of the new Orcadian, way of life, including the use of flat-based Grooved Ware pottery and stone maceheads. A recently discovered slab decorated with a lozenge design, found reused in a cist at Drumnadrochit (EHG4672; McLaren 2019), expresses this relationship, as the lozenge shapes on the slab are also seen on early Grooved Ware and on some stone slabs in Orkney. For example, the Arisaig decorated slab (MHG56817; Bowker 2014), with its incised design reminiscent of that seen at Ness of Brodgar and elsewhere in Orkney, confirms that people were travelling up from the eastern and western side of Highland Region.

Further evidence for this is provided by the small timber and subsequent stone circle that was built, before being dismantled, at Armadale on Skye (MHG60879). This circle is either contemporary with or pre-dates a pit containing cremated human bone dated to 2880–2570 cal BC (Peteranna 2011b; Krus and Peteranna 2016). The Armadale circle could well have been inspired by the Stones of Stenness in Orkney. It is one of a number of Late Neolithic stone and timber circles in Scotland, some associated with Grooved Ware pottery, including examples at Balbirnie, Fife (Gibson 2010), Calanais on Lewis,Temple Wood in Kilmartin Glen, Argyll and Bute and Machrie Moor, Arran (Sheridan 2004a).

These people also adopted the use of carved stone balls, but whether this was due to their contacts with communities in Orkney, where balls were used, or with others in Aberdeenshire, where the vast majority of carved stone balls have been found, it is impossible to tell.

Funerary practices changed to cremation, which follows the trend elsewhere in Britain though seemingly not in Orkney. Token amounts of cremated remains of two individuals were buried in a pit at Raigmore with Grooved Ware sherds around 3000 BC (MHG45835; Simpson 1996a; Copper et al 2018; Case Study Raigmore (Stoneyfield) Cairn), and parts of at least one individual were buried in a pit at Culduthel, along with sherds of Grooved Ware pots Sheridan 2010b; Hatherley forthcoming).

Very little is known about the reaction of Grooved Ware users in the Highland Region to the arrival of yet more continental immigrants – the so-called ‘Beaker People’ – around 2500 BC (Parker Pearson et al 2019; Hoole et al 2018). Just as during the Mesolithic-Neolithic transition, where the question of what happened to the indigenous hunter-fisher-foragers remains open, it is unclear for how long Grooved Ware continued to be used after the appearance of Beaker pottery, or what the dynamics of indigenous vs. incomer relations were. As pointed out by Booth (2019; Booth et al 2021), the picture of a near-total genetic turnover in Britain following the appearance of ‘the Beaker People’ does not mean that the indigenous population was wiped out.

5.1.6 Strengths and weaknesses of Highland Region’s evidence for the Neolithic period, plus opportunities and threats

Before suggesting research questions and recommendations, it is useful to identify the regional Neolithic archaeology strengths and weaknesses and to characterise these as either within reach of a solution (opportunities) or with no obvious solution (threats). Many of these relate to all periods, outlined in Chapter 3, and are relevant to this discussion.


  • There is a reasonable amount of palaeoenvironmental (including palaeoclimate) information available, which can be used to create narratives of land use.
  • The activities of NOSAS and other community groups help to redress the geographical imbalance in fieldwork, with dedicated volunteers providing a great help by collating information, especially local details that may have previously escaped existing databases.


  • More generally, there is a serious geographical imbalance in the amount of archaeological research, investigation and excavation undertaken over Highland Region, with Inverness and environs being disproportionately well served by developer-funded projects. The Neolithic archaeology of Skye, for example, is very poorly documented.
  • Large parts of the northwest mainland remain under-researched due to the paucity of developer funded activities in the area, the remoteness of the area and the nature of the terrain; many sites are likely to be concealed under peat or rough grazing. Consequently, it is hard to know whether the archaeologically ‘blank’ areas were devoid of people, or if they contain hidden traces of human presence. It is strongly suspected that people were indeed living in the northwest Highlands during the fourth and early third millennia, particularly around the coast, but without targeted fieldwork the chances of finding evidence for this are very slim.
  • Most of the Neolithic settlements remain unpublished, or disseminated only via ‘grey literature’ accounts (often at the Data Structure Report stage, prior to the undertaking of specialist reporting and radiocarbon dating). Other shortcomings in the presentation of results in a few of the grey literature reports include inadequate dating and discussion of the Neolithic material uncovered; mis-identification of pottery in the field sometimes by non-pottery specialists; and the undertaking of insufficient post-excavation research to establish a date or a definitive identification of the artefactual and other finds. Often, too, there is a long interval between production of the DSR and publication of a final report, complete with dating information. In some cases, final reports are never finalised and there are no funds available to bring them to full publication. It can also be difficult to track down where the finds from legacy excavations currently reside, especially in the case of assemblages that have still not been through the Treasure Trove process.
  • Very little is known about the nature and organisation of settlements in the Neolithic period. The record is dominated by funerary evidence, and the distribution of settlements currently known is very largely due to the location of developer-funded fieldwork, much of which takes place around Inverness.
  • The question of what happened to the indigenous Mesolithic inhabitants of the Highland Region after the Neolithic migration of farmers from the continent remains unresolved. It is not known for how long the Mesolithic lifestyle persisted, or whether indigenous communities rapidly became acculturated to the farming lifestyle. As explained in Chapter 4, the number of Late Mesolithic sites in Highland Region is very small, and there is not a ‘critical mass’ of evidence allowing archaeologists to understand the nature of the relationship between the indigenous population and the incoming farmers.
  • Related to that issue is the question of the dating of shell middens in the Highland Region. Clearly shell middens were formed at many different periods, including the medieval period, but there is currently no clear picture of how many were accumulating during the fourth and early third millennia. Whether any that may date to that period relate to activities by fisher-hunter-foragers who chose not to adopt farming, or by farming communities who diversified their subsistence activities is also unclear.
  • At the other end of the chronological scale, archaeologists know very little about what happened to indigenous farming communities when continental Beaker users arrived in the region around 2500 BC, other than that the indigenous farmers clearly did not die out.
  • More research needs to be carried out on the patterns of lithic resource exploitation, particularly in the west of the Region, to build on work already undertaken by Torben Ballin on individual rock types including Arran pitchstone, Rùm bloodstone, and flint around Tarradale (eg Ballin 2009; 2018; 2019; 2020a,b).
  • Similarly, much work remains to be done on assessing the chronology of the surface scatters of lithic artefacts, and on undertaking targeted fieldwork to examine the nature of activity represented by these scatters.
  • An unknown number of artefacts remain in private hands, and thus inaccessible to the public, and there are also records of objects that have been ‘lost’ in the past.
  • No systematic attempt to synthesise all the available evidence on the Neolithic period in Highland Region has been made in the past. The invaluable collation of data that has been undertaken by Susan Kruse and members of Archaeology for the Community in the Highlands (ARCH) group for this research framework (HighARF) highlights the need to re-investigate the collated material to check, update and correct descriptions and attributions and to create definitive, well-illustrated corpora to facilitate future research.


  • The work of collating information that has been undertaken for HighARF provides a good foundation for, and offers the opportunity to develop, a comprehensive dataset of information on the Neolithic sites, monuments and finds in the Highland Region. Further development of the existing artefact data would offer the opportunity to create a ’24 hour museum’ of images and information relating to objects that are currently scattered across several museums and collections.
  • The Highland Archaeological Research Framework’s defined research questions highlight gaps in our knowledge and provides the opportunity for funding bodies to understand where funds could most fruitfully be directed in order to address these questions
  • The peat-covered landscape offers a good testing ground for the development of survey methods designed to ‘see through’ peat


  • The continued retention of artefacts in private hands, in contravention of Scots bona vacantia law, which states that all objects whose original owners or rightful heirs cannot be identified are the property of the Crown, and can be claimed by the Crown, denies everybody the possibility of seeing and understanding these pieces of the evidential ‘jigsaw’ of Scottish Archaeology.
  • The absence of funds specifically dedicated to bringing developer-funded excavation reports to full publication means that it will be hard to improve the status quo – but not impossible. Exploration of all potential funding sources should be pursued.

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