5.7 Transport and Movement

5.7.1 Movements of people

The immigration of farmers from the Continent is attested by the DNA genetic evidence from human remains showing clear Continental ancestry from the passage tombs at Tulloch of Assery A and B and Tulach an t’Sionnaich around Loch Calder (MHG981; MHG932: MHG926), from the passage tomb at Embo, Sutherland (MHG11630), and from an adult and infant from a cist at Balintore (MHG6341; Sánchez-Quinto et al 2019; Sheridan et al 2018; Sheridan and Schulting 2020, table 18.1. Note that we are not dealing with first-generation immigrants in these cases). Further samples from Highland Region are being analysed (from Strathglebe: MHG5316) and there are plans (by Vicki Cummings) to sample more of the Loch Calder cairns individuals.

Virtually no oxygen, strontium or sulphur isotope analysis has yet been undertaken to assess patterns of mobility on an individual lifetime scale, so this is an area where future research is required. The available carbon and nitrogen isotope data do, nevertheless, show clear differences between the people buried in Orkney-Cromarty passage tombs in Highland Region, those buried in west Scottish caves and in the An Corran rock shelter on Skye (MHG6497), and those buried in Clyde cairns in southwest Scotland (Sheridan and Schulting 2020, fig. 18.5). The full meaning of this patterning is yet to be explored, but it may reflect regional environmental variability and could possibly indicate that most people did not move far over the course of their lives.

There are currently not enough DNA data to trace the spread of passage tomb users from the west of Scotland into the northern and eastern parts of Highland Region (and beyond), but the distribution and style of the passage tombs found in Highland Region strongly suggests that this did occur, early in the fourth millennium (Sheridan and Schulting 2020).

Movement of people around the Region and to areas outside the Region is plentifully attested by the presence of non-local materials and artefacts and by the sharing of design ideas in pottery and in funerary monuments, as described elsewhere in this chapter. External contacts are with Orkney (especially, but not exclusively, along the eastern seaboard); with western and south-west Scotland, especially via Loch Ness; with Aberdeenshire and Moray; with southern Scotland and northern England; and, in the Inner Hebrides, with the Outer Hebrides. As noted in section 5.6.4, it is not possible to tell whether anyone from Highland Region sailed along the Atlantic façade as part of the interactions that resulted in the shared tradition of creating Atlantic rock art.

5.7.2  Movement of objects, raw materials and ideas

The evidence relating to this is fully covered in Section 5.4.3 and is touched on in 5.7.1, so will only be summarised here.

The earliest objects to have moved are the Early Neolithic axeheads of jadeitite and jadeitite or eclogite from the North Italian Alps that will have been brought to Highland Region among the possessions of immigrant farmers from Nord-Pas de Calais in northern France.

Once settled, the farmers quickly established extensive networks of contacts and exchanged objects, ideas and people over these; individual objects could travel long distances around such networks. Among the earliest objects to have moved are the axeheads of Langdale tuff from Cumbria and of porcellanite from Northern Ireland, and the pitchstone from Arran. Movement of ideas, in various directions, is shown by the shared design of pottery. At some point, probably during the second quarter of the fourth millennium, the jet ‘monster bead’ found in the chamber tomb at Strathglebe (MHG5316) was imported from the Whitby area, North Yorkshire.

During the Middle Neolithic, it may be that some Langdale tuff and porcellanite axeheads were acquired; the few calc-silicate hornfels axeheads from Creag na Caillich will have arrived during this period, as well as flint axeheads and some other items of Yorkshire flint. The jet belt slider from Skye (MHG61232) will also have arrived during this period, probably between c. 3300 BC and c. 2900 BC.

Around 3000 BC, the contacts that had already existed with Orkney resulted in the adoption of Grooved Ware pottery and the use of maceheads; the Arisaig stone (Fig. 5.75), with its incised design that is so reminiscent of that found in Orkney, is a further sign of contact with Orkney, this time down the western seaboard (Bowker 2014). Whether the carved stone balls found in Highland Region were acquired via links with Orkney, or else via links with Aberdeenshire, is hard to determine. Connections with Yorkshire seem to have continued; it is possible that the fine oblique arrowheads found in the Ormiegill passage tomb had arrived as a result of such links.

5.7.3 Means of transport

There is no primary evidence for the means of transport, although the use of boats is clearly implied by the evidence for movement of objects and ideas. It is likely that dug-out logboats were used for river and loch travel, and possibly for some inshore travel, while light skin-covered curraghs were used for deep-water marine travel. (Smaller curraghs could also have been used for riverine and lacustrine transport.)

Some travel will have been by foot. Domesticated horses did not exist in Britain until the Middle Bronze Age (as discussed in Chapter 6), so travel by horse can be ruled out. Likewise, there is no evidence for wheeled transport in Britain until the Middle Bronze Age (as attested by the block wheels from Blair Drummond moss, Stirling). If, as seems likely, some cattle were used for traction, this will have been to pull ards rather than vehicles.

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