Exploitation of Wild Food Resources

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

Rosie Bishop et al’s 2009 review of ‘Cereals, fruits and nuts in the Scottish Neolithic’ (Bishop et al 2009) noted the very frequent presence of carbonised hazelnut shells, and subsequent palaeobotanical studies of Highland Region assemblages confirm the popularity of this nutritious and storable 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 will 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 indeed seem to have been deliberately introduced to Orkney, and possibly treated as a semi-domesticated species there: Clarke et al 2017).

The apparent avoidance of eating marine resources among farmers is a feature of the Early Neolithic, demonstrated by the results of carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of human remains elsewhere in Scotland (eg Schulting and Borić 2017; note, though, that it is possible to have 10% or a greater proportion of marine food in the diet before it shows isotopically). 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). Over time, elsewhere in Scotland (especially Orkney), there is evidence showing that people did consume marine resources; and Lucy Cramp’s lipid analysis of Neolithic pottery (Cramp et al 2014) 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, including shells of oyster, mussel and dog whelk, was found (Timpany 2009). Whether or not this had constituted ‘famine food’ is impossible to determine. 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 fourth and third millennia.

Leave a Reply