A charred hazelnut shell recovered during the excavations at Longhowe, in Tankerness, earlier this year, has been dated to 6820-6660 BC.
Although Orkney has plenty of indications of early (pre-farming or Mesolithic) settlement in the form of stone tools, this is the first date to relate to this activity. It pushes back the dated settlement of Orkney by 3,000 years.
The hazelnut shell was found in a pocket of soil that had survived underneath the Bronze Age burial mound at Longhowe and provides a context for numerous stone arrowheads and other tools, which were found both in the soil below, and in, the matrix of the mound.
It is likely that the remains of a small Mesolithic hunting camp were destroyed by the mound builders.
Caroline Wickham Jones explained: “This date relates to the earliest known period of settlement of Scotland when bands of nomadic hunters lived here. Remains from this time are scarce and few sites have been recognised by archaeologists, especially in the north. Longhowe is therefore important both for the light it can shed on this elusive period of Orkney’s past as well as for our understanding of the early settlement of Scotland as a whole.”
The excavations are organised by Orkney College and funded by Orkney Islands Council, Friends of Orkney Archaeological Trust, the Society of Antiquaries of London and the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. Thanks to Historic Scotland for funding the date and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre for the analysis. Thanks also to Douglas Paterson, landowner, for his interest and support.