Missing mammals from the Mesolithic middens: a comparison of the fossil and archaeological records from Scotland - NMS Research Repository
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Book chapter

Missing mammals from the Mesolithic middens: a comparison of the fossil and archaeological records from Scotland

2004

Abstract

Wild mammmals were an essential source of food and materials for Mesolithic people in Scotland. However, most Mesolithic sites in Scotland contain scant evidence of the mammals that were exploited locally. In contrast, the fossil and contemporary records indicate that there was a very high and changing diversity of mammal species available to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers as the climate warmed at the end of the last Ice Age: up to 23 species of terrestrial and freshwater mammals from the fossil record compared to a maximum of 16 species from Mesolithic sites, but only four of these were found at more than two sites. The reasons for this disparity between the fossil and the archaeological records are discussed. In Scotland most Mesolithic sites with faunal remains are coastal shell middens, which may not be sites where mammals were routinely hunted and their carcasses processed. The shell midden sites are also of Later Mesolithic date and hence cannot reflect the Early Holocene fauna, which included cold climate species that had survived from the Lateglacial. Many areas have acid soils in which bones are only rarely preserved, and this may explain the absence of faunal materials from the majority of coastal and inland sites. The fact that larger mammals may have been processed at the kill sites, and that some mammals were exploited for their skins, futher reduces the chances of their survival in the archaeological record. Finally, optimal foraging for prey in relation to prey density may have meant that some large mammal species (e.g. moose) were not worth hunting except opportunistically. It is likely that all of these factors have contributed to the impoverished mammal fauna of the Scottish Mesolithic.

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