4.1 Introduction

Communication between archaeologists and scientists engaged in environmental reconstruction has not always been easy. Archaeology recognises the need to comprehend landscape change but informed use of the data generated by natural scientists is still unusual in many periods of prehistory, and certainly within the historic period.

Argyll and Bute has been fortunate, compared to most of Scotland, in having had a number of syntheses or reviews of palaeoenvironmental data in recent years. Graham Ritchie’s invaluable Archaeology of Argyll (1997) has a chapter by Donald Sutherland, then a leading figure in the Scottish Quaternary (the last c 2.3 million years of Earth history). Quaternary geologists are inevitably drawn to the study of glaciers and glaciation, before c 11700 cal years ago, a period until very recently (Ballin et al. 2010; Wicks and Mithen 2013) thought to be devoid of human settlers and so of little interest to most archaeologists. Nevertheless, Sutherland (1997) spent >50% of his review on the period older than c. 11700 cal years ago in Argyll, and there is no mention at all of people in the past. My own review (1999) in the RCAHMS inventory of Kilmartin Glen was confined to that area and could add little more about people in the past. Gillen (2004) in Donald Omand’s The Argyll Book managed only one page of sixteen on the postglacial period.

Quaternary scientists themselves have visited Argyll and Bute four times in the last 30 or so years, to Islay and Jura (Dawson 1983), to Mull (Walker, Gray and Lowe 1985), to the Oban region (Walker, Gray and Lowe 1992) and just tip–toeing into the region in 2003 (Evans 2003) but only one contribution to the field guides to these areas includes a chapter on archaeology, that in 1992 by Clive Bonsall.

There is a serious point here, that archaeology is often seen as different to the Quaternary and vice versa when they are not. They should be inseparable. This review will attempt to redress the balance somewhat. It will do so by initially ‘packaging’ together what we know in the region about the end of the last glaciation before going into more detail about environmental change within the subsequent Holocene epoch.