3.4.2 The sites of the Fort Littoral and Recolonisation of South East Scotland

In recent years excavations undertaken at Echline Fields and East Barns together with the Northumbrian site at Howick have revealed spectacular and substantial house structures dating to the late 9th millennium BC. In addition to consistent dates, all three structures have produced a remarkably consistent set of structural features. The houses were built within a sub-circular sunken house pit between 4m and 6m in diameter. The pits were edged with inwardly angled post holes and contained a complex arrangement of centrally positioned hearths and other internal furniture. Both the Echline Fields and East Barns houses had west facing entrances.

Photograph of excavation site. The outline of a house structure can be seen  in the site.
East Barns Mesolithic house and hollow under excavation © Rob Engl and John Gooder, courtesy of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
Photograph of excavation site. There is a circular pattern of holes in the red-brown grown.
East Barns Mesolithic house after excavation © Rob Engl and John Gooder, courtesy of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

At East Barns sealed lenticular spreads of cultural debris including large quantities of lithics and probable food waste were recorded; these represented material that had gathered beneath the flooring of the house. Dwelling pits with such lenticular deposits are seen as one of the most persistent indicators of house sites throughout the South Scandinavian Mesolithic and occur in both Maglemosian and later Ertebølle cultural horizons (Grøn 2003: 692).

The robust construction evidence at Echline Fields and East Barns implies some degree of permanence. The ethnographic literature suggests that Mesolithic populations are likely to have operated on several spatial scales, with settlement activities ranging from base camp aggregation to more structurally ephemeral seasonal and resource-specific temporary camps such as Cramond and Garvald Burn. This spatial scale may have been reduced at certain sites along the Forth Littoral, where the presence of varied, numerous and predictable resources may have fostered a cultural adaptation involving longer periods of extended occupation or regular reoccupation.

Close-up photograph of an excavation site. the area is segmented by rope. A person in green trousers and a plaid t-shirt is reaching down for one of the labelled details
Garvald burn excavation © HES

The sites of the Forth Littoral including Cramond are united by the presence of large, well stratified assemblages of narrow blade lithic material. This combination of robust structures and narrow-blade material has been proposed as a specific ‘colonising’ cultural response to the inundation of the North Sea Plain at the turn of the 8th  millennium BC (Waddington 2007a; 2015; Waddington and Bonsall 2016; Waddington and Passmore 2012). The sites are relatively uniform in nature and are clustered both temporally (c.8600–7800 cal BC) and geographically (North East England and South East Scotland), giving credence to what Waddington sees as a population move westwards from Doggerland along the then shoreline towards the north-east coast of Britain (Waddington and Bonsall 2016). These populations then quickly spread throughout the northern part of the British Isles.

Photograph of a person grouched down at an excavation site, examining the sire closely.
The Mesolithic site at Cramond under excavation in 1995 © City of Edinburgh Council Archaeology Service

While archaeological evidence for other types of substantial hut structures is present within the later Mesolithic such as at Dunragit (Bailie and Mooney 2014) in Dumfries and Galloway, none appear to be directly comparable to the earlier pit house sites that date to the turn of the 8th millennium BC. This theory has been argued against by Conneller (2022, 178) who states that rather than tracking an east–west population movement, the radiometric dates produced by the sites of the Forth Littoral may in fact be a reflection of the rise of hazel within the early post-glacial environment of northeastern Britain during the 9th millennium.

In addition to the substantial house sites the Forth Littoral has produced further evidence of Mesolithic settlement within the wider environs of East Barns where disturbed lithic material of Mesolithic date was recorded at both Dryburn Bridge (Dunwell 2007) and Torness (Mercer 1976). Similarly, narrow-blade material was identified approximately 600m to the east of the East Barns site during field walking associated with the project (Gooder 2001). Mesolithic material has also been identified on the Gullane Sands further to the west.

Excavations at the Cramond site, Edinburgh (Lawson et al 2023) have produced a number of stake-hole and pit features with associated assemblages of lithics and hazel nutshell. With occupation dating between 8630–8210 cal BC Cramond appears to be the first of the securely dated narrow-blade microlithic sites appearing along the southern shore of the Forth, and as such it remains the earliest narrow-blade type assemblage yet discovered in Britain.

Within the immediate environs of the Cramond site itself, various excavations at Cramond Roman Fort have produced several further small assemblages of narrow-blade lithic material (Engl 2006, 2012 and 2017) These assemblages most probably represent the re-deposition of material within secondary contexts.

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)

On the opposite western bank of the mouth of the River Almond at Cramond on the Dalmeny Estates, EAFS undertook a programme of fieldwalking between  1997 and 1998 which was followed up with test-pitting in 2006. The project identified a scatter of narrow-blade lithic material and possible shell midden evidence (Jones 1998). Combined with the evidence obtained from Cramond and Echline Fields this suggests a concentrated focus of Mesolithic settlement along this part of the Forth.