Copyright Calum Davidson 2004
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Watch Hill
The recent human history of the east shore of the Kyle of Tongue stretches back to the end of the last ice age, ten thousand years ago, when the last of the glaciers melted to give us the landforms which we see around the Kyle today. This ice age would have destroyed any evidence of human settlement in the North of Scotland in earlier times.

There is little recorded evidence in the far north for this Palaeolithic period, but archaeological evidence of the lifestyle of hunter gather families excavated on the Isle of Jura, of the coast of Argyll, over the past 20 years gives us a clear picture of how these handfuls of people would have lived off the beaches and cliffs of North Sutherland eight to ten thousand years ago. It may be that their shell middens, created by generations of families moving between around the coasts, have yet to be recognised or excavated in this part of Scotland. However such sites on Jura, and at a rock shelter and shell midden recently discovered and excavated in Skye have shown that at this time people had tools of bone, stone and antler, were living off shellfish, fish and deer using pot-boiler stones ( i.e. stones heated in a fire which were then used to boil water) as a cooking method, were making beads from seashells and had ochre pigment and used shellfish which can produce purple dye. Neolithic (ie three thousand BC or five thousand years old) middens can be seen at the east side of the Kyle of Tongue, near the Youth Hostel.

The sea level would have been much higher at that time (or to be exact the land level was lower - the weight of ice having depressed the land significantly - in fact it is still rebounding  over northern Europe, up to one centimetre every ten years in the Northern Baltic sea area.) There would also probably have been wide salt marshes in the upper reaches of the Sutherland firths, and extensive Forests of Birch, Alder and Scots Pine on the fertile land, with a wide spread scrub forestry on the poorer land. Most importantly, and the greatest contrast to today, there would have been no Peat.

These Hunter Gatherers would have lived a nomadic lifestyle in the area for five thousand years, until the first permanent farming settlements by the Neolithic people, around four to five thousand years ago. The Neolithic people lived in small family groups, practising simple agriculture and animal husbandry, supplemented by hunting. Most evidence of their lifestyle has been submerged by the growth of peat since 2000 BC, but some cup and ring rock carvings dating from that time can be seen near Loch Hakel, at the south end of the Kyle of Tongue. On the shore of this small loch you will find a large boulder marked with 34 cupmarks (11 of which are ringed). A local tradition recorded in 1870 explained the marks as being made by a fairy with pointy heeled shoes.

Nearby Orkneys rich archaeological remains show how such Neolithic communities lived and worked. On the Orkney Island of Papa Westray there is a remarkable well preserved stone house at the Knap of Hower, occupied over 5000 years ago. The walls stand to a low eaves height, and the stone furniture is intact. Evidence from nearby middens shows that the inhabitants were keeping cattle, sheep and pigs, farming barley and wheat and gathering shellfish as well as fishing for species which have to be line caught using boats. Finely made and decorated Unstan ware pottery fragments links the inhabitants to chambered cairn tombs nearby, as well as to sites in other parts of Scotland.
Pre-history in the Kyle of Tongue
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