3.3 Subsistence

3.3.1 Faunal Remains

Well-stratified faunal remains of Early Holocene date are relatively scarce and poorly preserved within the regions archaeological record and are almost solely confined to the excavated sites of the Forth Littoral. This is likely to give an unbalanced and highly restricted view of the Mesolithic exploitation of animal species within the region.

The excavation at East Barns produced scant faunal remains in the form of burnt bird and seal bone. These were also recovered at Howick on the Northumbrian Coast, along with those of wild boar (Sus scrofa), fox (Vulpes vulpes) and probable dog (Canis familiaris) (Engl & Gooder 2021 76).

Photograph of people working at an excavation site. The ground is divided into quadrants by rope, and three of the people are gathered around one of these quadrants.
East Barns excavation by AOC Archaeology © East Lothian Council

Further up the Forth at Echline Fields, South Queensferry, evidence for a wider range of taxa was identified, including wild boar, canids and possible auroch (Bos primigenius), roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) and red deer (Cervus elaphus) (Robertson et al 2013: 101–2).

Large quantities of oyster in association with red deer have been recorded at the Late Mesolithic shell midden sites of the Forth Valley (Lacaille 1954). Surprisingly no shellfish were identified at either Echline Fields or East Barns, though the more exposed Howick produced dogwhelk, periwinkle and limpet amongst others; albeit with the majority obtained from unstratified sources.

Illustrated map showing the locations of Echline Fields and Castlandhill
Location of Echline Fields © Headland Archaeology

It is hoped that the Mesolithic midden discovered at Musselburgh (Kirby et al 2020) will provide further faunal information for Mesolithic occupation along the Forth Littoral.

No faunal assemblages have as yet been identified away from the coastal region. It is likely however that subsistence along the river systems of the interior such as the Tweed and Clyde was focused on the exploitation of salmon.

3.3.2 Hazelnuts

The use of plant foods within Early Holocene populations is relatively invisible within the archaeological record (Bishop et al 2022) and it might be inferred that these foods might have played a secondary role in nutrition (Holst 2010). However, one component of this food group that appears synonymous with excavated Mesolithic sites is the hazelnut. Hazelnuts were intensively exploited on a seasonal basis as a source of food throughout this period and formed an important component of the Mesolithic diet (Bishop et al 2014, 56). It is usually the shell that is recovered, either as charred or waterlogged remains, rather than the kernel (Hastie and Bishop 2023, 28).

Within the South East region hazelnut shell is present within all the excavated sites of the Forth Littoral. Substantial quantities have been recovered at the Cramond site. Hazelnut has also been found within the upland sites of the region with large quantities recovered at the Manor Bridge site in Peebleshire (Warren 1998b) and at Weston Farm (Ward 2005).

Photograph of an arched stone bridge over a river. The riverbank is covered in lush green grass, and there are forested hills in the background. A person stands in the river with their back turned.
Manor Bridge, Scottish Borders © HES

The frequency of the hazelnut shell recovered from the Cramond (Hastie and Bishop 2023) and Manor Bridge (Hastie 2002) sites suggests that hazelnuts were often processed on a medium-to large-scale for consumption at the site.