The Stone Age
About 10,000 years ago, Scotland lay under a great sheet of ice. As the climate slowly warmed and the ice retreated, people were already living in the area, hunting, fishing and where possible gathering wild plants and fruits. The retreating glaciers left behind boulders and mud, which would soon be colonised by grasses and shrubs. Trees followed - hazel and birch at first, followed by oak and pine. A rich variety of animals were attracted and the seas and lochs had fish in plenty.
The retreat of the Ice marks the end of the Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age), whose primitive stone tools have been found in southern England. Evidence of Palaeolithic people and the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) is thought to have been lost through ice action in Scotland. This is characterised by shell middens - heaps of debris containing many seashells as well as stone and bone tools. Middens have been found in Skye, Argyll, and Wester Ross dating to around 8,000 years ago. A working site, where stone tools were being made, has now been found at Oliclett in Caithness.
From about 6,000 years ago people began to settle and farm the land. This change brings in the Neolithic (New Stone Age), and the creation of the first monuments. Great burial cairns were built overlooking the cultivated land in which the bones of tribal ancestors were collected together. Good examples of chambered cairns can be seen at Camster (long and round cairns), Cnoc Freicadain, Yarrows (Caithness, north and south), Achcoillenaborgie (Strathnaver), Vatten (north and south), Kensaleyre, Rudh' an Dunain and Kilmarie (Skye) and other places. Some of these are round and others are long, but they all have chambers inside to hold the ancestors.
At the end of the Neolithic, about 4,400 years ago, great enclosures and stone circles were being built. The magnificent examples at Callanish in Lewis or the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney are well known. In Highland we have the sophisticated Clava Cairns near Inverness where burial cairns are surrounded by stone circles and attached to them by stone rays.