2.2.4 The Territory of the Mesolithic Groups of Perth and Kinross

While the remit of the current document is the modern administrative area of Perth and Kinross, it should be borne in mind that prehistoric hunter-gatherer territories tended generally to be defined by topography, such as mountain ranges and, in particular, waterways. As a result, any discussion of prehistoric territories based on modern administrative boundaries will be truncated and flawed. Waterways would generally work in one of two ways, namely as a territorial border or the focus of settlement. The deep fjords of Norway tended to separate neighbouring territories (eg Bergsvik and Bruen Olsen 2003, Fig. 52.6), whereas the Danish fjords, which are actually lowland estuaries, were the focus of settlement, with one social group inhabiting both sides of a fjord, from the sea and well into the hinterland (Vang Petersen 1984, Fig. 15).

One model would see hunter-gatherer territories along the Scottish east coast defined geographically like the contemporary Danish territories, focusing on a firth or estuary and extending from the sea, along the shores of the estuary, and into the upland and highland areas touched by the river system. In this region, this would, first and foremost, be the River Tay. Two aspects of this territorial (subsistence) system have already been mentioned, namely the inner estuary and the upland/highland area further west. However, the territory would also have included the mouth of the estuary and the North Sea coast on either side. This part of the territory lies in a neighbouring, modern administrative region and therefore is not dealt with in detail here. Nonetheless it is mentioned as the sea would have represented an integral part of the territories exploited by the Perth and Kinross communities, who would have utilised the River Tay and its estuary to access additional food resources in the form of (saltwater) fish and marine mammals (eg seals and whales).

The Tentsmuir area in Fife, immediately south of the estuary’s mouth, is rich in Mesolithic remains, but only one site, Morton, has been excavated (Coles et al 1971). This coastal site yielded a rich lithic assemblage from the Early as well as the Late Mesolithic periods, much of it made of chalcedony. The extensive use of chalcedony may link this site to the communities living along the River Tay and estuary.

Midden remains included evidence of the exploitation of terrestrial mammals such as red deer, roe deer, aurochs and wild boar, birds – particularly guillemots and gannets, fish and marine molluscs. The fish assemblage was dominated by cod, but also included haddock, turbot, sturgeon and salmon or trout. There was an impressive variety of marine mollusc species; the most common was Baltic tellin [macoma balthica]. Morton also yielded a large variety of Early and Late Mesolithic tool forms, including relatively large numbers of isosceles as well as scalene triangles (Coles et al 1971).

Morton A, identified by diagnostic lithic artefacts as Early Mesolithic, returned one Late Upper Palaeolithic date and several Late Mesolithic dates covering the period 8000–4200 cal BC, whereas Morton B, identified by its lithic assemblage as Late Mesolithic, has Late Mesolithic dates ranging from 5650––3790 cal BC. However, there are indications that the re-examination and re-classification of the assemblage is desirable, ideally alongside the lithic assemblages from the rest of Tentsmuir that are held in the collections of National Museums Scotland (NMS) and local museums including Perth. The number of burins (101 pieces), for example, is exceptionally high, considering that Scottish Mesolithic sites tend to include none or single-digit numbers of such pieces. Unfortunately, this task is hampered by the fact that the finds have been allocated to a number of different museums.