Flintstone Farmers; the First Inhabitants of Scotland Hunted to Survive but Civilisation Began When They Learned to Produce Their Own Food. A New Discovery Now Shows How It Came About

Article excerpt

Byline: by Jim McBeth

HE hacked into the hard earth with a crude implement fashioned from stone. On a desolate hilltop, overlooking what is now Edinburgh, Scotland's first farmer was digging the foundations of the modern world. In his struggle to survive, the Neolithic farmer of Ravelrig had unknowingly started what historians describe as the greatest revolution in human history.

With a stroke of a prehistoric 'spade' he ended the perilous existence of the hunter-gatherer that had endured from the dawn of time.

Over the next 5,000 years, the isolated farms would be transformed from settlements into villages, towns, cities and regions governed by law.

The earliest days of that world were discovered earlier this year when the remains of a roundhouse and farmstead were found during an archaeo-logicaexcavation at a quarry at Ravelrig Hill near Dalmahoy, just outside the capital.

Archaeologists hailed the discovery of one of Scotland's oldest prehistoric buildings as hugely significant. The hilltop farm dates from the same period as Skara Brae on Orkney, regarded as Scotland's finest Neolithic site. It also indicates that the first mainland farmers were producing food rather than hunting for it.

John Lawson, Edinburgh's city archaeologist, says: 'The farmstead would be recognisable to us as a farm. The animals would be the same, although they would look different. Cattle would be dark and smaller with long horns.

Pigs would have looked more like boar, squat and hairy rather than pink. And the sheep would look similar to an ancient breed, such as Soay.'

The late Stone Age is a largely unknown chapter in prehistory but it was arguably the most defining period of human history.

Steve Driscoll, Professor of Archaeology at Glasgow University, says: 'It represents a social and technological transformation - the template for the way we live today.'

The hunter-gatherer way of life had endured from the beginning of history. Life was an uncertain and perilous nomadic existence of 'following' food over large distances.

Every day, 'family' units of 20 or 30 people would trap and kill wild animals and collect nuts and berries. If they were fortunate and food was abundant, they survived. If not, they starved and died.

Hunter-gatherers were highly mobile but it was an existence without stability, as they were affected by the vagaries of the weather and animal migration.

There was no time for anything other than finding food, warmth and shelter.

But when the first farmers appeared around 4,000BC, the advance signalled a new age. Rudimentary agriculture and a knowledge of docile animals arrived in Scotland with immigrants from Europe.

At first the Neolithic farmers would exist alongside the hunter-gatherers but the advantages of a sedentary lifestyle eventually rendered the nomadic existence obsolete.

EARLY inhabitants of Scotland built permanent settlements and, by using fire and more advanced tools such as stone axes, began the deforestation of land for crop planting.

Instead of travelling over vast tracts of land, groups could live in the same place for most of the year. They began to tend biddable animals.

It also became apparent that they could cultivate grasses such as oats, wheat and barley which would nourish larger groups of people and allow surplus food to be preserved for leaner times.

Technological man had arrived. But the shift from hunter-gatherer to a more sedentary lifestyle did not take place overnight and initially it was an inferior lifestyle.

Hunter-gatherers had a more balanced diet because they ate a wider variety of foods. The new farmers were more vulnerable to attack. But the turning point was that the settled lifestyle led to a prehistoric population 'explosion', which produced more people to work the land - and defend it. …