The Bronze Age
Bronze Age c. 2000 – 700 BC
Around 2000 BC new waves of people settled in Britain from the continent. In some places they built stone circles; they buried the dead in small rectangular cists made of stone slabs, sometimes covered by an earthen mound or a stone cairn. (This is an alternative possible identity for Mullach an Tuir).
A cist was found in a cairn, the stones now covered with turf, at Balcladaich near Knockfin. There is no record of any finds from the cist, although people were often buried with grave goods, to symbolize their status or to use in the afterlife. Several cists, one of which is pictured above right, were recently discovered in Drumnadrochit during an excavation by AOC Archaology.
The people who came to Scotland at the start of the Bronze Age brought with them the knowledge of metal-working, which transformed prehistoric technology, although stone, wood, bone and antler continued to be used too. Gold and silver were used for jewellery, but the big advance was in learning how to smelt ores to extract metal from rock. Copper was the first metal to be smelted, but it is rather soft, and people soon learned how to alloy it with tin to make bronze. Now people could make bronze axes for tree-felling and woodwork.
These Early Bronze Age people still lived by subsistence farming, supplemented by fishing and hunting, just as the first farmers of the Neolithic had done.
Later in the Bronze Age, towards 1000 BC, the climate became cooler and wetter, resulting in a decline in forest trees, both deciduous and coniferous. This meant that some land was no longer suitable for growing crops, but at the same time the decline in tree cover meant that there were more open spaces where grasses now grew, so stock-rearing became more important than agriculture.
Pollen can survive for thousands of years in damp conditions, and the analysis of pollen grains from West Affric has shown tree pollen being replaced by grass pollen, but has also shown pollen from grain crops such as an early form of barley, similar to bere barley.