The First Farmers

Neolithic          c. 4000 – 2000 BC

(New Stone Age)

From about 4000 BC new people came to the British Isles from the continent, bringing with them the knowledge of farming. They lived in settled villages, and kept sheep, goats, cattle and pigs and grew grain crops. So people have probably been farming in Strathglass for up to 6000 years, although their animals and crops were different from the improved breeds we have today.

The Neolithic farmers used stone tools, such as axes to clear spaces for farming in the forests which covered much of the land.

A similar axe to that shown (without the haft) was found in the river bed at Knockfin and is now in Inverness Museum.  Flint was still used for arrow-heads, as hunting continued along with farming and like the Mesolithic people, the first farmers also used other materials such as wood, bone and antler.

They were also the first people to make pottery.  None has been found in Strathglass, but it might have looked similar to this sherd from a recent excavation in Inverness.

German Heck cattle similar to prehistoric cattle
Neolithic Axe
Pottery sherd

They also built monuments which survive to this day, including earthen mounds or stone cairns.  These contained burials, perhaps the bones of the ancestors, but they were also focal points for religious and social ceremonies.  Some are chambered cairns, where a passage leads to a chamber inside, where bodies were buried; these often remained in use for centuries and were opened from time to time for new burials.

We may have one of these sites at Mullach an Tuir, on the hillside above Cannich.  Members of Strathglass Heritage Association have been clearing away the soil, turf and moss which have accumulated on the stones of the cairn, in an effort to identify its structure, although it is still not certain if the cairn does have an entrance passage and an inner chamber, as it has been much disturbed by forestry planting, and possibly by natural tree growth before that.

If Mullach an Tuir is a chambered cairn, it might originally have looked something like the image below.  For more information visit our Fieldwork report for this site.

It may, however, simply cover a burial on the ground below it, with no internal structures, and could be somewhat later.

The Neolithic people built other monuments too.   A standing stone in the grounds of Guisachan House near Tomich is rather low and not very impressive, but it bears several cup marks.

These circular hollows carved into the surface of a stone or into rock date from the Late Neolithic or Early Bronze Age; no-one knows what their significance is.  There are more numerous and clearer cupmarks on the capstone of Corrimony chambered cairn just over the hill in Glen Urquhart.

Cupstone with Guisachan House behind
Cup marks