Islay - Prehistory


The earliest settlers on Islay were nomadic hunter-gatherers who may have first arrived during the Mesolithic period after the retreat of the Pleistocene ice caps. A flint arrowhead, which was found in a field near Bridgend in 1993 and dates from 10,800 BC, is amongst the earliest evidence of a human presence found so far in Scotland. Other finds have been dated to 7000 BC using radiocarbon dating of shells and debris from kitchen middens. By the Neolithic, settlements had become more permanent, allowing for the construction of several communal monuments.

The most spectacular prehistoric structure on the island is Dun Nosebridge. This 375 square metres (4,040 sq ft) Iron Age fort occupies a prominent crag and has commanding views of the surrounding landscape. The name's origin is probably a mixture of Gaelic and Old Norse: Dun in the former language means "fort" and knaus-borg in the latter means "fort on the crag". There is no evidence that Islay was ever subject to Roman military control although small numbers of finds such as a coin and a brooch from the third century AD suggest links of some kind with the intermittent Roman presence on the mainland. The ruins of a broch at Dùn Bhoraraic south east of Ballygrant and the remains of numerous Atlantic roundhouses indicate the influences of northern Scotland, where these forms of building originate. There are also various crannogs on Islay, including sites in Loch Ardnave, Loch Ballygrant and Loch Allallaidh in the south east where a stone causeway leading out to two adjacent islands is visible beneath the surface of the water.

There is some controversy about the nature of the relationship between the indigenous peoples of Ireland and south west Scotland during the late Iron Age. The widely accepted theory is that the latter became populated by immigrants from the former, replacing an earlier culture, although it has also been suggested that the Gaels in this part of Scotland were indigenous to the area.

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