5.3.2 Exploration and pioneer settlement: when, where and how did people arrive in Argyll?

The earliest known human presence in Argyll is at Rubha Port an t-Seilich on the east coast of the Isle of Islay dating to 12,000 BP (Mithen et al. 2015), Figure 33, interpreted as representing a short-term visit (or visits) by Late Glacial hunter-gatherers who were exploring the margins of the known ice age world. We must, however, be open to the possibility of similar visits at least 2000 years earlier in light of the evidence from Howburn, South Lanarkshire suggesting hunter-gatherers of the Hamburgian culture at 14,500 years ago (Ballin et al. 2010) within the Late Glacial (Windermere) interstadial. The possibility of even earlier human activity within Argyll cannot be entirely excluded. Fossil and archaeological evidence for pre-modern human activity is known from Pontnewydd Cave in north Wales dating to 230,000 years ago. If Neanderthal-like humans had expanded their range to northern Wales, there seems no reason why they should not have also done to western Scotland. If any such evidence exists, it is only likely to survive in cave deposits.

Figure 33: Rubha Port an t-Seilich, on the east coast of Islay © copyright

Following the Rubha Port an t-Seilich activity, the archaeological record suggests a period of at least 2500 years during which hunter-gatherers were making exploratory visits to what is now Argyll during the Late Glacial and early Holocene. Understanding this critical period of Argyll’s prehistory requires not only analysis of the archaeological data but reconstruction of the palaeoenvironmental context, notably changes in sea level, tidal range and vegetation history.

Read more: The environmental context The archaeological record