By Neil Oliver
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Extra info for A History of Scotland Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History
It was directed by a dear man called Tom Affleck who had made a second career for himself, relatively late in life, out of his lifelong fascination with archaeology. Tom’s first degree, completed just after World War II, had been in botany and for years he had been a market gardener. But, happily for many of us, he went back to university in the 1970s to pursue his second academic love. By the time I met him, in the mid 1980s, he was working towards his doctorate in the subject. We were investigating what proved to be a campsite used by hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago and for the most part we were finding little more than tiny chips of flint and chert, the debris of stone tool-making long ago.
This is not population pressure - it is what has been best described as like day-trippers armed with picnic hampers and rugs walking further along a beach to get to a clear spot where they can spread out their things. The greatest frustration is that while we have been able to build up a fairly detailed picture of the practicalities of hunter-gatherer life, we know nothing about what those ancestors thought about the world. But if the spiritual lives of Scotland’s first inhabitants are lost to us, we can at least wonder at evidence found elsewhere.
Since they would have wanted warmth and protection from the elements they would have worn well-made, neatly fitting clothes and footwear of animal skin and fur, fastened by buttons and toggles of bone, horn, wood or stone. Stone survives best, after millennia buried in the earth, and so archaeologists tend to recover more things made of that material than any other. But stone would have been no more important to the early settlers than any other material, perhaps less. Their tool kit would have included spears and knives for hunting; cords and ties for fashioning snares and traps; equipment for cutting, for preparing skins and hides, for maintaining their clothes - needles for stitching and mending - as well as bags and baskets for collecting wild foodstuffs.