By Neil Oliver
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Extra info for A History of Scotland: Look Behind the Mist and Myth of Scottish History
Their material culture - the things they made and used to exploit their environment - would have been the products of ancient experience and experiment. They may well have been more skilful, and better equipped to take on The Wild, than any nineteenth-century prospector. Since they would have wanted warmth and protection from the elements they would have worn well-made, neatly fitting clothes and footwear of animal skin and fur, fastened by buttons and toggles of bone, horn, wood or stone. Stone survives best, after millennia buried in the earth, and so archaeologists tend to recover more things made of that material than any other.
Beyond the Highlands and towards the south the glaciers left a gentler, less spectacular landscape of rolling hills and river valleys. As well as scouring and quarrying, the ice sheets deposited new material. Silts and gravels in vast quantities were spread out across the low-lying terrain - deposits that would develop into some of the most fertile farmland in the British Isles. Around 16,000 years ago the last glacial was at its peak. The ice sheet had reached as far south as Wales and the midlands of England and all traces of human habitation had been wiped from the land as completely as chalk dust from a blackboard.
By the time I met him, in the mid 1980s, he was working towards his doctorate in the subject. We were investigating what proved to be a campsite used by hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago and for the most part we were finding little more than tiny chips of flint and chert, the debris of stone tool-making long ago. Tom had a genius for passing on his enthusiasm, however, and to make the whole exercise more worthwhile he took the time to show us an astonishing product of his painstaking efforts at the site in previous years.