The Daer Reservoir sites (1-3) and the Early/Late Mesolithic transition

by Torben Bjarke Ballin, Lithic Research

Over a number of years (1995–2001), the weather was sufficiently dry during the summer to lower the water table of Daer Reservoir, South Lanarkshire (NGR: NS 9860 0827; Figure 1). This exposed three Mesolithic settlement sites, which were still well-preserved (Daer 1, 2 and 3; Ward 2000; 2002; 2010). This opportunity was exploited by Biggar Archaeology Group, led by the late Tam Ward, and all three sites were fully excavated. The fieldwork resulted in the recovery of three lithic assemblages, numbering 2,478 pieces (Daer 1), 1,759 pieces (Daer 2), and 1,038 pieces (Daer 3), totalling 5,275 pieces.

All three sites are datable by their artefact composition to the later Mesolithic, with two of the sites (Daer 1 and 3) probably dating to a time just after the Early/Late Mesolithic transition, which has been dated by Saville (2008) to c 8,400 cal BC. Two radiocarbon dates were obtained, dating Daer 1 to 8,333-7,962 cal BC (AA-30354) and Daer 2 to 7,255–6,654 cal BC (AA-30355). This makes Daer 1 the second oldest radiocarbon-dated Mesolithic site in central and southern Scotland, surpassed only by Cramond, near Edinburgh (six dates spanning the period 8,600–8,300 cal BC; OxA-10143–10145, 10178–10180).

Map showing the location of Daer Reservoir using a gree diamond shape. It is located near Moffat towards the south West of Scotland.
Fig 1 The location of Daer Reservoir in the ‘gap’ between River Tweed and River Annan © Canmore, HES

Cursory distribution analyses were carried out, suggesting that they all represent short-duration camps, and that the lithic material may in each case represent the work of a single knapper (Figure 2.1 and 2.2).

Digital distribution graph drawn with concentric, uneven circles.
Fig 2.1 The distribution of lithic artefacts across Daer 1 © Torben Ballin
3d model showing the distribution of lithic at Daer, which resembles a pointed hill, with green, yellow, orange and blue stripe depicting the distribution levels.
Fig 2.2 The distribution of lithic artefacts across Daer 1 © Torben Ballin

Given what is generally known about the Mesolithic lithic industries of central and southern Scotland (Saville 2004; Saville and Wickham-Jones 2012), the raw material composition of two of the three sites (Daer 1 and 3) was highly surprising. Generally, the known Mesolithic sites in the inner parts of southern Scotland are characterized by the use of local radiolarian chert, with this raw material usually making up almost 100% of the assemblages, but at Daer Reservoir Sites 1 and 3, most of the pieces are flint, supplemented by small amounts of chert. The assemblage from Daer 2 (with its slightly later radiocarbon-date) is almost entirely chert, as one would have expected.

As River Annan runs from the reservoir and into Solway Firth this suggests that the early settlers (Daer 1 and 3) probably procured their flint from the shores of Dumfries and Galloway, whereas the later settlers (Daer 2) may have procured their chert more locally, the way Mesolithic and Early Neolithic groups in the region generally did (eg Garvald Burn in the Borders, Glentaggart in South Lanarkshire and Burnetland Hill chert quarry, also in the Borders; Ballin and Barrowman 2015; Ballin and Johnson 2005; Ballin and Ward 2013). The question is, whether the Daer sites represent exceptions to a rule, or whether they testify to changes occurring to Mesolithic societies, economies, and exchange/procurement networks around the Early/Late Mesolithic transition. At the present time, no Early Mesolithic assemblages from this region have been analysed in detail and published, although Early Mesolithic isosceles triangles have been collected from mixed surface scatters like Dryburgh Mains in the Borders (Lacaille 1937; 1954).

The general typo-technological composition of the three assemblages corresponds to that known from other Scottish sites from the Mesolithic period, with numerous microliths and microburins, supplemented by scrapers, piercers and truncated pieces (Ballin 2021). The cores are mostly conical single-platform cores, from which microblades were detached by the application of soft percussion. The microliths are of special interest, as their shapes and sizes may be diagnostic and helpful in terms of building up typological sequences, placing the assemblages in a sequence which saw the development of triangular microliths from isosceles pieces, over slightly scalene pieces, to the notably scalene pieces known from most Late Mesolithic sites in Scotland.

close up image of four sub-triangular, grey stones on a padded blue surface. They are different shades of grey, textures and differ in overall size, though all have irregular triangle shapes with one distinct pointed end.
Fig 3.1-3.4 Three intact and one fragmented scalene triangles of assumed early type from Daer 1 (photo courtesy of the late Tam Ward). (Note triangle No. 3’s well-developed microburin facet)
close up image of four sub-rectangular, grey stones on a padded blue surface. although they are all the same shape, they are different shades of grey, textures and differ in overall size.
Figs 4.1-4.4 Four almost intact scalene triangles of assumed late type from Daer 2 (photo courtesy of the late Tam Ward)

It is this analyst’s working hypothesis that scalene triangles like those in Figs 3.1-3.4 are datable to the very earliest part of the Late Mesolithic period whereas those shown in Figs 4.1-4.4 are somewhat later, but only the finds from Daer Reservoir suggest absolute dates for the two typological forms. However, the possible chronological sequence suggested by the Daer microliths is supported by the recent analysis of microlith-bearing scatters from Chapeldonan in South Ayrshire (excavated by GUARD Archaeology Ltd), where it was possible to typologically group the scalene triangles in a similar manner (Ballin forthcoming). Radiocarbon-dates have not yet been returned from Chapeldonan.

The triangles with their hypotenuse facing the left are digitally drawn in a row, and labelled 1, 2 and 3. The hypotenuse is a thin line, where the other two are bolder.
Fig 5 Chronological sequence of triangular microliths in southern Scandinavia and northern Germany (Ballin & Ellis 2019), with No 1 dating to what in Britain is referred to as the Early Mesolithic, No 2 to the early part of the Late Mesolithic, and No 3 to the later part of the Late Mesolithic

The background of this working hypothesis is the fact that, on the north-west European continent, triangular microliths form a chronological sequence, as shown in Figure 5 (above). Isosceles triangles are older than scalene triangles, with the former dating to the Early Mesolithic and the latter to the Late Mesolithic, and on the continent the scalene triangles gradually develop from pieces where the shortest of the two shortsides is only slightly shorter than the longer one (isosceles/scalene hybrid triangles, like many of the pieces from Cramond; Saville 2008) to pieces where the shortest shortside is notably shorter than the longer one (clearly scalene triangles). Following this formal sequence, the North West European triangular microliths also gradually grew smaller. The reality of this sequence is supported by radiocarbon-dated sites in Duvensee Moor, Schleswig-Holstein (Ballin 2021).

On the basis of a single piece with flimsy basal modification from Cramond it was suggested (Conneller et al 2016) that the typical basally modified microlith industries known from the Early/Late Mesolithic transition in southern England are also present in Scotland, but this was disputed by Waddington et al (2017). No Horsham and Honey Hill style assemblages have yet been discovered in Scotland, and it appears that lithic typological developments during the Scottish Late Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods followed those of southern Scandinavia until the breakdown of the Doggerland land-bridge across what is now the North Sea (Ballin 2016). This breakdown (possibly affected by the Storegga tsunami; Ballin 2023) is clearly indicated by the total absence in Scotland of handle-core technology (Ballin 2016) and trapezoid and rhomboid microlith types (Jacobi 1976).

It is the main aim of this typological work to offer evidence relating to the dating of the two subtypes of scalene triangles to allow us to use the presence/absence of these forms in connection with the dating of Late Mesolithic assemblages unassociated with radiocarbon-dates.


Ballin, T B 2016a ‘Handle-cores from northern Jutland and regionality in the Danish Mesolithic – is the assumed east-west split as clear-cut as generally perceived?’, Quartär 63, 157–168.

Ballin, T B 2016b ‘Rising waters and processes of diversification and unification in material culture: the flooding of Doggerland and its effect on north-west European prehistoric populations between ca. 13 000 and 1500 cal BC’, Journal of Quaternary Science 32(2), 329–339.

Ballin, T B 2021 Classification of Lithic Artefacts from the British Late Glacial and Holocene Periods. Oxford: Archaeopress Publishing Ltd.

Ballin, T B 2023 ‘Lithic evidence of the Storegga tsunami at Guardbridge in Fife’, CIfA Scottish Group Newsletter, Summer 2023, 12–15.

Ballin, T B forthcoming The lithic assemblage from Chapeldonan, South Ayrshire. Presently being prepared for future monograph(s) on the site and its assemblages for GUARD Archaeology Ltd.

Ballin, T B and Barrowman, C 2015 ‘Chert artefacts and structures during the final Mesolithic at Garvald Burn, Scottish Borders‘, Archaeology Reports Online 15. Available at:

Ballin, T B and Ellis, C 2019 ‘An undisturbed Early Mesolithic retooling station at Donich Park, Lochgoilhead, Argyll, Scotland – right-handed and left-handed knappers’, Archäologische Informationen 42 (Early View). Available at:

Ballin, T B and Johnson, M 2005 ‘A Mesolithic Chert Assemblage from Glentaggart, South Lanarkshire, Scotland: Chert Technology and Procurement Strategies’, Lithics 26, 57–86.

Ballin, T B and Ward, T 2013 ‘Burnetland Hill Chert Quarry: A Mesolithic extraction site in The Scottish Borders. The Quarry’, Prehistoric Quarries & Early Mines Interest Group 9, 3–23. Available at:

Conneller, C, Bayliss, A, Milner, N and Taylor, B 2016 ‘The Resettlement of the British Landscape: Towards a chronology of Early Mesolithic lithic assemblage types’, Internet Archaeology 42. Available at: []

Jacobi, R M 1976 ‘Britain Inside and Outside Mesolithic Europe’, Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 42, 67–84.

Lacaille, A D 1937 ‘The Microlithic Industries of Scotland’, Transactions of the Glasgow Archaeological Society IX(I), 56–74.

Lacaille, A D 1954 The Stone Age in Scotland. London: Oxford University Press.

Saville, A 2004 ‘The Material Culture of Mesolithic Scotland’, in Saville, A (ed), Mesolithic Scotland and its Neighbours. The Early Holocene Prehistory of Scotland, its British and Irish Context, and some Northern European Perspectives, 185–220. Edinburgh: Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

Saville, A 2008 ‘The Beginning of the Later Mesolithic in Scotland’, Man – Millennia – Environment. Studies in Honour of Romuald Schild Z Sulgostowska and Tomaszewski, A J Warsaw: Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 207–213.

Saville, A and Wickham-Jones, C (eds) 2012 Palaeolithic and Mesolithic Scotland: ScARF Panel Report. Edinburgh: ScARF.

Waddington, C, Ballin, T B and Engl, R 2017 ‘Missing the point: a response to Conneller et al (2016) and the mischaracterisation of narrow blade chronology in Britain’, Mesolithic Miscellany 25(1), 26–32. Available at:

Ward, T 2000 Daer Reservoir, Interim report September 1997 & 2000. Unpublished report.

Ward, T. 2002: Daer Reservoir, Interim report No. 3. March 2002. Unpublished report.

Ward, T 2010 Mesolithic of South Lanarkshire, Special report. Unpublished report.