3.2 History of Mesolithic Research

In recent years the discovery and excavation of the spectacular late 9th millennium sites of the Forth Littoral has pushed South East Scotland to the forefront of Mesolithic studies in Scotland. However, despite a wealth of Mesolithic settlement evidence in the form of antiquarian and modern surface collections, few systematic research programmes or syntheses of available data have been undertaken in the region. This is in direct contrast to the large-scale research projects that have taken place in the maritime west of the country.

Illustration of a map of Scotland, focused on the region between Fife Ness and East Barn, showing the location of key mesolithic sites.
Map showing important Mesolithic sites across the SESARF region © Headland Archaeology

Of the three excavated Forth Littoral sites (Cramond, Echline Fields and East Barns) the latter two were discovered and recorded as a result of commercial development allied to good curatorial practice and control.

Mesolithic material has also been recovered from palimpsest and later archaeological sites such as the Cramond Roman Fort excavations (Engl 2006; Engl 2012), and those at Musselburgh (Kirby et al 2020, Clarke and Kirby forthcoming) and Elginhaugh (Yeoman et al 2007).

Photograph of three pe
Excavations at Cramond Roman Fort in 1995 © City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service (CECAS)

Other more formal research has been sparser. The rich surface scatter sites of the Tweed Valley were studied by Lacaille in the 1950’s (Lacaille 1954) but have been largely ignored until the recent work of Warren (2001), Barrowman (2000) and Finlayson and Warren (2000).

South East Scotland has a long history of amateur collecting giving rise to substantial mixed assemblages of poorly understood material lying within both private and museum collections. Nevertheless, recent collaborations between professional archaeologists and local groups such as the Bigger Archaeology Group (BAG) and the Edinburgh Archaeological Field Society (EAFS) involving field walking, test pit survey and small scale excavation has given rise to several important research developments. These include the investigation of the Late Hamburgian site at Howden (Ballin et al 2018), the varied sites within the Daer Valley (Ward 2017) and the identification and  investigation of Later Mesolithic chert quarries in the Upper Tweed Valley at Burnetland Farm, Broughton (Ward 2012) and Wide Hope Shank (Warren 1998). Similarly, engagement with the EAFS in the 1990’s led to the excavation of the mid-9th Millennium Cramond site in Edinburgh (Lawson et al 2023) and to the discovery of a flint scatter site during field walking and test pitting on the opposite bank of the River Almond on the Dalmeny Estate (Jones 1998; Lawson et al 2023). 

Aerial photograph of a river next to a vivid green field. there are boats scattered along the river.
The River Almond at Cramond © M J Richardson (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Mesolithic research as it currently stands in South East Scotland can perhaps be viewed as a dual system, in which the discovery and research of Mesolithic sites in lowland areas appears to be largely dependent on commercial development, with sites in upland areas such as the Upper Tweed Valley appearing to rely on more independent engagement. To this can be added sporadic chance lithic finds across the region, both during commercial developments and by members of the public.

Scenic photograph of a stream in daer valley. There are mountains and some pine forest in the background.
Daer Valley © Eileen Henderson (CC BY-SA 2.0)