5.3.3 Residential settlement: reconstructing mobility patterns, c 9400-7800 cal BP

The period between c. 9400 and 7800 cal BP can be described as that of residential settlement within Argyll and western Scotland in general – residential referring to a permanent presence in the region despite what was probably a highly mobile lifestyle. Mesolithic communities – or perhaps a single community – were exploiting the whole region, with activity events distributed from Northton on the Isle of Harris in the north to Auchareoch on the Isle of Arran in the south, and hence encompassing the whole of Argyll. Although there are only 45 dated activity events within this 600 year period, it seems likely that many of the undated Mesolithic sites would date to this period. It was a period of on-going environmental change, with the likelihood that people were now having an influence on vegetation history through deliberate clearance and intensive harvesting of woodland.

The increasing number of activity events up to c. 8200 cal BP can be interpreted as an increase in population numbers, although factors relating to preservation and discovery may also be significant. As argued elsewhere (Mithen 2015) and illustrated in Figure 37, the archaeological record suggests a mobile settlement pattern based around exploiting specific types of resources at specific location, most likely at specific times of the year – unfortunately seasonality data is especially sparse.

Figure 37: Schematic diagram for Mesolithic hunting and gathering activities during the residential phase of settlement © copyright

Several sites have multiple activity events throughout the period of residential settlement indicating repeated visits to key localities, either as a regular seasonal round or simply responding to particular weather conditions and other contingent factors. The latter seems more likely because the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers would have been in a state of constant uncertainty about environmental conditions, these being in flux because of both weather and climatic change. As such, constant information gathering, processing and decision making by the Mesolithic hunter-gatherers would have been required: by necessity they would have been ‘Thoughtful Foragers’ (Mithen 1990).

Read more: Mesolithic Activities Environmental Context