Raasay: The Island and Its People

By Norma Macleod | Go to book overview

1
The History of Raasay to c.1500

There is no doubt that Raasay has been occupied for many millennia before recorded history. All the evidence for occupation and settlement before about AD 1500 has come from archaeological surveys of the area.1 Raasay has had the benefit of such surveys since the early 1990s, each concentrating on different areas of the island, and each producing new evidence. The extent of each of these surveys has depended on available funding, and so evidence to date is patchy. This work is ongoing and in the fullness of time will permit a far more comprehensive assessment of the island's pre-history.


Mesolithic Period (8000-3000 BC)

By far the oldest site found to date lies on the north west tip of Raasay at Loch a' Sguirr. Here, there is a substantial rock shelter with a large platform above the sea cliff. Radiocarbon dating indicates that it was occupied about 7600 BC, just after the end of the last Ice Age. Bone and stone tools were found on the site. There were two types of stone tool found, some of flint-stone that probably came from the Staffin area of Skye and some of bloodstone from the Island of Rhum.

The people of that time were hunter-gatherers, and may have used such shelters in winter. Another site on Raasay, at Clachan Bay, has produced tools of a similar period. This site is now in the inter-tidal zone, covered by a layer of peat. The period immediately following the Ice Age saw large fluctuations in land and sea levels, caused by a combination of ice melt, resulting in a rise in sea level, and the land rising when the weight of ice came off it.

A survey carried out in 2001 identified twenty-one caves on the island, many of them between Hallaig and Screapadal, all having shell middens indicating occupation at some time. Although these middens have an upper layer of relatively recent date, older evidence may be found below that. Further work has yet to be carried out on these sites.

Raasay is not alone in producing evidence for these, our earliest settlers. Along the neighbouring coastlines, recent work has revealed a wealth of evidence which would appear to indicate a large number of mobile communities exploiting the wealth of natural resources in a remarkable variety of ways.


Neolithic Period (3200-2200 BC)

The neolithic period is characterised by the transition from predominantly hunter-gatherers to a more settled society, cultivating cereals and with domesticated animals. While the discovery of a polished stone axe-head from Arnish,

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