Oldest dwelling in Scotland discovered beside River Forth

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  By Bob Duncan

Archaeologists working on the site of the new Forth Replacement crossing in South Queensferry have discovered the remains of the oldest dwelling in Scotland, a mesolithic roundhouse dating back more than 10,000 years.

Traces of the ancient dwelling at on the south banks of the River Forth were discovered during archaeological excavation works in preparation for the construction of Scotland’s largest infrastructure project in a generation.

A large oval pit measuring nearly seven metres in length was all that remained of a dwelling that has since been dated to the Mesolithic period, around 10,250 years ago and is now recorded as one of the earliest houses in Scotland.

The discovery was made in a field at Echline, South Queensferry, as part of routine archaeological excavations in advance of work starting on the Forth Replacement Crossing project.  Extensive works were carried out to ensure that any evidence was recorded and recovered before construction works began.  The site has been dated at around 8240 BC.

The remains consisted of a large oval pit measuring 6.96 metres long by 0.55 metres deep with a number of postholes, represented by shadows on the ground.  These would have held wooden posts which would have supported the walls and roof, which experts believe would have been covered with turf.  The remains of several internal fireplace hearths were also identified.

Ed Bailey, Project Manager for Headland Archaeology, the company that carried out the works, said:

“The discovery of this previously unknown, and rare type of site has provided us with a unique opportunity to further develop our understanding of how early prehistoric people lived along the Forth.

“Specialist analysis of archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence recovered in the field is ongoing. This will allow us to put the pieces together and build a detailed picture of Mesolithic lifestyle.”

More than 1000 flint artefacts were found which included materials which would have been used as tools and arrowheads.  Other discoveries included large quantities of charred hazelnut shells, indicating that nuts would have been an important source of food for the hunter-gatherer occupants of the house.  All of the artefacts will be preserved.

Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist, Rod McCullagh, is an advisor to the project.  He said:

“This discovery and, especially, the information from the laboratory analyses adds valuable information to our understanding of a small but growing list of buildings erected by Scotland’s first settlers after the last glaciation, 10,000 year ago.  The radiocarbon dates that have been taken from this site show it to be the oldest of its type found in Scotland which adds to its significance.”

The site bears similarities to other Mesolithic sites previously discovered along the Forth.  Archaeologists believe the dwelling would have been occupied on a seasonal basis, probably during the winter months, rather than all year round.

Transport Scotland confirmed yesterday that the discovery will not halt the building work and will to press ahead with plans to concrete over the historic site.

However, the find has been carefully recorded and studied and all the artefacts in the hut have been painstakingly recovered. A recreation of the dwelling may be built nearby.

Transport Minister, Keith Brown said:

“A dynamic new crossing over the Forth estuary which will help deliver for Scotland’s future, and which is the single biggest construction project on the ground at present, is now also helping to educate us about Scotland’s past.

“This ancient dwelling, which was unearthed as part of the routine investigations undertaken prior to construction works, is an important and exciting discovery.  We now have vital records of the findings which we will be able to share to help inform our understanding of a period in Scotland’s ancient history.”