2.1 Introduction

The onset of the Holocene at around 9800 BC marks the commencement of the Mesolithic period with the earliest radiocarbon date for Mesolithic hunter-gatherer-fisher activity in Scotland currently 8630 cal BC [9250 ± 60 BP; OxA-10180] from Cramond on the Firth of Forth (Saville 2008). Defining the end of the period is more complex with overlaps in radiocarbon dates for Mesolithic and Neolithic sites across Scotland (see Ashmore 2004). However, for the purposes of this Framework, the transition is recognised as commencing from 4000 BC, as defined by the Scottish Archaeological Periods and Ages (ScAPA) project. The search for evidence of the hunter-gatherer communities of Perth and Kinross remains a relatively new endeavour with great promise demonstrated through investigations by the Ben Lawers Historic Landscape project, Strathearn Environs and Royal Forteviot (SERF) project and most recently the Early Settlers project of the Tay Landscape Partnership Scheme (TayLP). Our current understanding of this period derives from palimpsest pit sites, lithic assemblages and stray finds. The exploitation of locally sourced raw materials of the chalcedony family (chalcedony, agate, jasper and carnelian) for tool manufacture is a notable regional characteristic of the known Mesolithic. Although few in number, the known sites and assemblages have contributed significantly to our understanding of transient hunter-gatherer communities and their activities along the lowland postglacial shorelines of the Rivers Tay and Earn and in upland areas by Loch Tay. However, evidence for activity between these environments remains elusive. The projects undertaken show considerable research potential. They emphasise the value of using refined fieldwork methodologies for carefully targeted investigations as a means of increasing site identification. These projects show the importance of excavating the sites and investigating their internal organisation, as well as improving artefact recovery.

This chapter provides a regional overview for the Mesolithic in Perth and Kinross as we currently understand it. Starting chronologically with the Late Upper Palaeolithic, we consider the current absence of material evidence from this period across the region and what such activity might look like it should it be identified through future research. The overview includes a brief history of the archaeological research undertaken in the region and a more detailed assessment of the current resource. The research agenda provides recommendations for further work in the form of research priorities and questions.

Main PeriodsSub-PeriodsDate BC
MesolithicLate Mesolithic8,400–4,000
MesolithicEarly Mesolithic9,800–8,400
Late Upper PalaeolithicAhrensburgian10,800–9,800
Late Upper PalaeolithicFedermesser-gruppen12,000–10,800
Late Upper PalaeolithicHamburgian/Creswellian12,700–12,000
Table 1. Basic chronological schema for the Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods of Scotland (BC). The dates are mainly based on dates from the various Scottish research framework (ScARF) panel reports (ScARF Palaeolithic and Mesolithic section; ScARF Neolithic section; information relating to the LUP Sonia Grimm pers. comm.).