MHG7704 - Occupation site - Glen Shieldaig


An occupation site which was excavated in the 1970s yielding a large collection of lithic artefacts possibly dating from the late Mesolithic period, together with an Ahrensburgian-type tanged point that may be pre-Mesolithic. The site is considered to be of national and international signficance.

Type and Period (2)

  • OCCUPATION SITE (Palaeolithic to Neolithic - 8600 BC? to 2401 BC?)
  • LITHIC SCATTER (Palaeolithic to Neolithic - 8600 BC? to 2401 BC?)

Protected Status

  • None recorded

Full Description

NG85SW 2 8162 5227.

A mesolithic site on Shieldaig Estate (NG 8154) was excavated by Dr M J Walker, Dept of Anatomy, University of Edinburgh, from 24th March 1973 to 7th April 1973. <1> <2>

This site is well known locally to be situated in a roadside gravel quarry at NG 8162 5227, otherwise no further information.
Visited by OS (J M) 20 May 1974.

A manuscript preliminary report was lodged with the NMRS, but is seems no final report was forthcoming. The site was first reported to Dr Walker by Mrs A. Macaulay, who reported finding lithic artefacts in the vicinity of a gravel pit. The excavation was proposed more to retrieve in situ material before the erosion of the undisturbed land surface than in the hope of recovering an intact assemblage in its entirety. Prior to excavations, several samples were collected from the side of the gravel pit immediately underneath the peat layer, and submitted for radiocarbon dating. The calibrated dates were 2230 and 2650 BC. No structural evidence was recorded from either Trench 1 or 4 other test trenches. A large lithic assemblage, was recovered. This consisted mainly of quartz, although there were small bloodstone and flint components. It is suggested that the microlithic technologies evident and the relatively recent C14 dates are in agreement with Mercer's view, based on work on the island of Jura, that such small tools are quite late, contemporary with Neolithic occupation in other parts of Scotland. <3>

This would be a remarkably late date for Microlithic assemblage. The radiocarbon dates were taken in 1973, when calibration was still in its infancy, and therefore some doubt about their accuracy must be maintained. <4>

The excavated assemblage included a tanged point which is fully described and illustrated in a 2003 article in the Oxford Journal for Archaeology. The point was found in a disturbed surface layer. It is of flint with all-over surface discolouration to a light grey. It has been made on a non-cortical tertiary flake, measures 29.9 x 17.1 x 4 mm and weighs 1.4 grams. The outermost part of the tip has been snapped off in antiquity. The specialist examination of the artefat established without any doubt that it is indeed a tanged point. The signficance of this is that the point is believed to be of Ahrensburgian type, and therefore linked to a group of tanged points from mainland Europe that date from the late Upper Palaeolithic, with a broad suggested date range of between c.10,550 and 9800 BP (c.8600 to 7850 BC). This is only the second Scottish artefact to be accepted as a geniune tanged point, the first being found on Tiree in the early 20th century. It joins an extremely small body of evidence for possible pre-Mesolithic (ie late Glacial) occupation within Scotland. The Shieldaig artefacts are in the care of the National Museums of Scotland, where the tanged point is catalogued as ACA57. <5>

This site was investigated during the Scotland's First Settlers Project in 1999. Its was possible for lithics to still be collected from the upper levels of the erosion faces around the edge of the quarry. The excavations in 1973 yielded a microlithic scatter of some 6000 pieces, and when the site was visited by the surveyors for the SFS, 45 lithics were collected. Over half of these were of quartz, and there were 14 pieces of chalcedonic silica, one of baked mudstone, and one of Rùm bloodstone. Half of this material was debitage, there were 18 regular flakes, one blade, and three retouched pieces: a scraper and two edge-retouched pieces. The lithic assemblage provides abundant evidence of human activity in the Mesolithic, though comprehensive analysis and discussion awaits further study. The lithic assemblage had been examined and elements published on various occasions (see above for Paleolithic tanged point)(Walker 1973; Clarke & Griffiths 1990; Saville & Ballin 2000; Ballin & Saville 2003) but the site has never been fully published. <6>
See link below to the published Scottish Archaeological Internet Report 31 for further details.

Test pitting was carried out in by West Coast Archaeological Services in January 2012 at the site in advance of construction of a waste water treatment works. Five of the test pits revealed lithic material. Of these two produced a significant number of small lithic finds within well stratified archaeological deposits. The lithics included narrow blade microliths, scrapers, cores and other retouched tools, primarily manufactured from quartz and rock crystal, but also including some in flint and one pice of Rum Bloodstone. Several fragments of fire-cracked pebble and stone were also recovered, which were most likely associated with cooking activities on site. The type and range of tools recovered from these two test pits appear to relate to the use of the site over a considerable time scale, from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic period, while other information recovered including Walker's radiocarbon dates and the Ahrensburgian Tanged Point appear to suggest a longer period of use from the Upper Palaeolithic into the Bronze Age. The stratigraphy recorded in test pits 29 and 31 indicates that the raised beach terrace was overlain at the front edge by wind-blown sand. Lithic material was recovered from two specific horizons within this sand and most likely relates to the various phases of occupation at the site. Further analysis of the lithics and radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples will allow a better defined chronology to be put forward. <7>

A mottled grey flint core and chip of red flint from Ceann Locha, Shieldaig , were gifted to the NMS in 1962. Listed under AB 2934 and AB 2935.
Lithic material from the 1973 excavtions is also listed in the NMS catalogue under Acc. Nos. ACA 57- ACA 214. This includes microburins, mircroliths, rods, scrapers, flakes, chips, cores, borers, burins, triangles, chisels, lozenge-shaped arrowheads. These were of various materials including quartz, quartzite, flint and bloodstone. The tanged point is listed under Acc. No. ACA 57. <8>

Sources/Archives (8)



Grid reference Centred NG 81627 52295 (70m by 77m) Uncertain extent. No plan available, so estimated from text description
Map sheet NG85SW
Geographical Area ROSS AND CROMARTY

Finds (2)

  • POINT (Palaeolithic to Mesolithic - 8600 BC? to 7850 BC?)
  • ASSEMBLAGE (Mesolithic to Neolithic - 8000 BC to 2401 BC)

Related Monuments/Buildings (0)

Related Investigations/Events (2)

External Links (2)

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