The earliest Orcadians were skilled hunters and gatherers who moved around the landscape leaving archaeologists only a few tantalising clues as to how they lived and understood the world.
Current evidence suggests that there were people in Orkney from around 10,000BC when the ice started to retreat at the end of the last Ice Age. People in the Mesolithic (‘Middle Stone Age’) did not live in permanent settlements but moved around the landscape, hunting wild animals, fishing and gathering nuts, berries, fungi and roots, living in seasonal camps rather than permanent homes. These early Orcadians left little in the way of material culture apart from flint hunting tools and the waste from making them. Mesolithic people were very skilled at using flint tools and were able to knap them into tiny sharp blades or microliths. They would have experienced a landscape that was warmer and drier; the sea levels would have been much lower. A decline in the woodland on Hoy is recorded in pollen records at around 6,400BC; associated charcoal deposits suggest that the decline was the result of humans clearing the native forest. Much of the archaeological remains for this period lie under the water now, and very little evidence survives for these earliest times.
Information courtesy of ORCA (Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology)
One of the projects supported by the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme is led by Aberdeen University and it looks at the submerged landscape and sea level change. Some very interesting work is being carried out in Orkney, where a team are looking for Mesolithic sites and evidence of sea change. You can read the latest report on this project by clicking on the link to the right of this page.