THE chance discovery of a remarkable collection of ancient flint tools, high in the foothills of the Cairngorms, has forced archaeologists to completely review their knowledge of Scotland’s earliest settlers.
Until now, it was widely believed that the first people to settle in Scotland, 7,000 years ago, lived a semi-nomadic existence near to the coast or along fertile river valleys.
However, the discovery of more than 80 pieces of worked flint and quartz in a remote glen in the heart of the Cairngorms has provided the first evidence that the early nomadic hunters were capable of undertaking arduous journeys to cross some of Scotland’s highest and most dangerous mountain passes in search of their prey.
Angus Wainwright, an archaeologist from England, literally stumbled across the amazing collection of fragments when he went out for a walk in Glen Dee, near Braemar, while attending a conference at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate. The fragments of flint and quartz had been exposed by workmen repairing a mountain path.
But the archaeologist only realised the significance of his find when he casually mentioned the discovery to Scottish colleagues attending the conference.
Dr Shannon Fraser, the archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland in the North east, explained: "Angus comes from East Anglia where all kinds of prehistoric artefacts can be found. And because worked flints are so common where he lives he didn’t realise the significance of what he had stumbled upon.
"It was only when he brought some of the fragments back that the eyes popped out of my head. He had uncovered the first evidence of people being right in the heart of the Cairngorms at least 7,000 years ago."
She said: "Until now, we had only evidence of people from the medieval period onwards in the Cairngorms. But we had always suspected that major routeways through the Cairngorms, such as the Lairig Ghru, may have been used by our earliest Scottish settlers as they moved through the landscape in seasonal cycles, fishing, hunting and collecting other foods and useful materials.
"But without any physical evidence for the presence of these people, we just couldn’t prove it."
Ian Shepherd, the principal archaeologist with Aberdeenshire Council, agreed that the finds were extremely significant. He said: "This discovery casts a very important new light on the use made of remote upland areas such as the Cairngorms in the distant past.
"The area where these flints have been found is very remote from the areas that we normally associate with settlement at that time."