9.6.1 Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, no Late Upper Palaeolithic or Mesolithic archaeological human or animal bone has been identified to date from Perth and Kinross, or analysed for stable isotopes.

There is currently a scarcity of documented Scottish human bone or (anthropogenically-created) zooarchaeological remains dating to any stage of the Late Palaeolithic period across Scotland. However, as outlined in this section, the evidence for human activity (in the form of flint scatters, etc) is increasingly accepted. Research in other parts of Britain and in mainland Europe has highlighted the great potential for isotopic approaches in better understanding diet and mobility patterns, both of humans and the animals they relied upon, in this period, and to better understand the natural environment (eg, Richards and Hedges 2003; Richards and Trinkaus 2009; Stevens et al 2010; Britton et al 2011; Jones et al 2018; Pederzani et al 2021). These studies confirm that in the future, materials permitting, isotopic studies could greatly enhance our understanding of this archaeologically-elusive time period. These themes dovetail with the main research agendas for this period, in particular the characterisation of the environment and the nature of landscape use. Until the discovery of well-contextualised and/or dated human or faunal remains from the period, the potential for isotope studies on archaeological remains are limited.

The Perth and Kinross landscape, taken from Dunkeld ©️ Gunther Tschuch (CC BY-SA)

For the Mesolithic period, both human and faunal remains from archaeological contexts in Scotland have been identified and studied, including for stable isotope analysis (eg, Richards and Hedges 1999; Richards et al 2003; Richards and Mellars 2015; Richards and Schulting 2015). To date, these have largely been restricted to the islands, the north and south-west of Scotland, and have evidenced dietary changes associated with the transition to farming. In the most recent work, the generation of dietary isotope measurements (carbon, nitrogen, sulphur) have been integrated with Bayesian modelling (FRUITS) of the data, enhancing the understanding of the transition to farming, which was a lengthy an gradual process, from a dietary perspective at least (eg, Bownes 2018). To date, strontium (and oxygen) isotope analyses, which have largely been employed to explore human and animal mobility in archaeological case studies, have been underemployed in Scotland for the Mesolithic period. These methods require the preservation of teeth, as opposed to bone, and require different instrumentation and expertise, and are more costly than carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope analyses. However, given the recent increase in application of strontium methods across archaeology as a field; the growth of expertise in these approaches within Scotland (eg, in Aberdeen) and more broadly within the UK; and the lowering of analytical costs; it is very likely that an increase of studies will soon follow. Despite this potential, there have, however, been no known stable isotope studies of Mesolithic human or animal remains from Perth and Kinross, likely given the dearth of documented animal or human bone from the period. Were archaeological materials to be found/identified in regional or national stores as originating in Perth and Kinross, any such studies should go hand in hand with radiocarbon dating at SUERC for example, maximising the return from destructive sampling of any new finds.

Research Priorities

The identification and cataloguing of collections of Late Pleistocene or early Holocene human and animal material that may already be held within Perth and Kinross or that which may be held in other national institutions and originate from the region.

The radiocarbon dating of isolated or unclassified materials which could potentially date to this period, including human and faunal remains. This should be conducted as part of commercial work, local museum or heritage initiatives, or research projects.

Given that stable carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotope data can be generated alongside radiocarbon dates in some institutions, for example at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre (SUERC), such an approach should be undertaken to maximise initial destructive sampling of any materials identified.