5.2 Introduction

Figure 23: Palaeolithic, Mesolithic and Early Neolithic sites referred to in the text © copyright

The borders of Argyll have been demarcated by political events and boundary commissions of various types extending from medieval times until at least 1891 when the Small Isles were transferred out of Argyll into Inverness-shire (Figure 23). As such and with regard to the nature of prehistoric settlement, Argyll is an arbitrary region of western Scotland: its spatial extent has no necessary correspondence to the cultural boundaries or the settlement range of early prehistoric communities – the mobile hunter-gatherers of the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods, and the communities of the Early Neolithic. These are likely to have extended throughout the west coast of Scotland and beyond. Nevertheless, as illustrated in Figure 24, the majority (75%, 24/32) of radiocarbon dated Mesolithic sites in western Scotland fall into the modern-day boundaries of Argyll, which also contains the only known in situ Palaeolithic site in Scotland, that at Rubha Port an t-Seilich, Isle of Islay (Mithen et al. 2015). A potentially earlier Palaeolithic site has been located at Howburn, South Lanarkshire, but its artefacts are dispersed with material of later periods within a ploughsoil (Ballin et al. 2010).

Figure 24: Radiocarbon-dated Mesolithic sites in western Scotland © copyright

This concentration of Mesolithic sites in Argyll is likely to be a consequence of both the attractiveness of this region of Scotland for Mesolithic foragers – abundant and diverse terrestrial and coastal resources – and the quantity of fieldwork undertaken in this region. In this contribution we review this archaeological record and its environmental context, identifying important themes for future research relating to both human behaviour and environmental change, these being inextricably linked throughout early prehistory.