Exploitation of Wild Food Resources

Foraging and hunting were elements of the subsistence strategy of the incoming farmers from the Continent, along with the production of food through agriculture and animal husbandry.

Bishop et al’s (2009) review of ‘Cereals, fruits and nuts in the Scottish Neolithic’ noted the very frequent presence of carbonised hazelnut shells, and subsequent palaeobotanical studies of Highland assemblages confirm the popularity of this nutritious and easy to store food resource. As for fruits, a sloe stone was found at Kinbeachie and two bilberry seeds were found at Embo (ibid, table 4). A continuation of Bishop’s round-up of palaeobotanical evidence needs to be undertaken to capture any additional evidence that may exist in recently excavated assemblages.

There is no unequivocal evidence for the hunting of wild animals, although circumstantial evidence is provided by the numerous arrowheads that have been found; not all of these would have been used for human combat. Examination and radiocarbon dating of the faunal remains recovered from the 1985 clearing-out of the chamber and passage at Garrywhin (MHG2210) should be undertaken to check whether any Neolithic red deer bone is present. Deer are known to have been exploited elsewhere in Neolithic Scotland and seem to have been deliberately introduced to Orkney where they were possibly treated as a semi-domesticated species there (Clark et al 2017).

The apparent avoidance of eating marine resources among farmers is a feature of the Early Neolithic. This is demonstrated by the results of carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human remains elsewhere in Scotland (eg Schulting and Borić 2017). The carbon and nitrogen isotope values of analysed Neolithic individuals buried in Highland Region are generally compatible with that broader pattern although see Section on the An Corran human remains (Case Study An Corran). Over time, elsewhere in Scotland (especially Orkney), there is evidence showing that people did consume marine resources. Lucy Cramp’s (et al 2014) lipid analysis of Neolithic pottery produced two examples from Scotland, one from Lesmurdie Road, Elgin and the other from Barpa Langais in the Outer Hebrides, where pots had been used to cook fish or other seafood. At Bellfield Farm, North Kessock (MHG53530), a deposit described as a ‘shell midden’ inside a pit, which included shells of oyster, mussel and dog whelk, was found (Timpany 2009). Other exploitation of marine resources is attested at Strathglebe chamber tomb (MHG5316), where a bead of marine ivory and two perforated limpet shells were probably deposited as grave goods. A review of, and dating programme for, the numerous shell middens around the coast of Highland Region would be worth undertaking to assess whether many (or any) had accumulated during the 3rd and 4th millennia.

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