Much of prehistoric archaeology – the traces that are visible in the landscape, at least – is bound up in monumentality: brochs, hillforts, standing stones. Less obvious are the remains of everyday life: houses, homes and farms. 

The first people to live in Scotland moved with the seasons, hunting, fishing and gathering whatever was available. This sort of lifestyle is particularly difficult to trace in the archaeological record since it treads so lightly on the landscape, leaving very little behind: postholes marking out timber buildings, or burnt deposits representing fireplaces. Add to that the thousands of years that have elapsed since Palaeolithic and Mesolithic activity, and it is easy to see why so little survives from which we can investigate the lives of the earliest people living in what we now know as Scotland. However, we do know that the number of people here in the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods would have been somewhere in the thousands. Although some Neolithic (c. 4000 BC-2500 BC) communities are thought to have maintained an element of mobility in their lifestyles, it is in this period that people began to farm the land. The discovery of grains – barley, wheat and oats – on Neolithic sites is indicative of agriculture, which implies a degree of permanence since the crops would require tending.  

There is more visible evidence of farming from the Bronze Age (c. 2500 BC-500 BC) onwards, although we don’t see a tidy grid system of clearly defined fields. Instead, we find low banks that define the edges of areas of cultivation; small piles of stones that were removed from arable fields to avoid breaking the plough, and lynchets (ridges formed along the downhill side of a plot by ploughing) define the edges of fieldsCord rig – narrow ridges around 1.3m in breadth, covering areas up to 0.5ha – forms undulations in the landscape, providing surface traces of prehistoric cultivation. There are swathes of cord rig visible across the hills of the eastern Borders and the Lothians; it is less prolific across northern and western Scotland, though it is possible that it may exist there but is concealed by greater coverage of heather and peat. Indeed, on Arran, cord rig has been excavated from beneath a peat horizon, indicative of its early date since peat takes many centuries to form.  

The homes of the people who farmed the land in prehistory are represented by hut circles: low mounds forming a ring with a break for a single doorway. These can often be identified on the edges of areas of cultivation along with banks forming associated enclosures (perhaps for livestock, although it is very difficult to confirm the function of enclosures). Some roundhouses had stone and turf walls while others were built of stone, but all are believed to have had conical thatched roofs. A large central hearth provided warmth and light, and the interior space may have been divided by woven wattle screens. Though all are named roundhouses, it is very probable that some in fact represented industrial buildings – craft spaces and workshops- as well as byres, barns or stores. For those that were domestic in nature, each roundhouse was probably home to an extended family group.  

Gamelsheil Settlement 

The remains of a settlement, probably Iron Age (c. 500-BC to around AD 300) in date, are found low on the south-west slope of Bothwell Hill. The settlement is formed of an enclosing wall and the remains of at least five roundhouses (perhaps many more) and associated field banks and clearance cairns. This site likely dates to the later Iron Age, early in the first millennium AD. 

LiDAR image of hungry snout settlement
The settlement at Gamelshiel, also known as Hungry Snout