They came from northern France around 6,000 years ago and changed the face of Scotland forever.
Immigrant farmers arrived in Scotland from the near mainland around 4000 BC. AD, introducing a way of life radically different from that of the hunter-fisher-gatherers who had lived in Scotland for millennia.
A “social and economic revolution” began when the Neolithic, or the New Stone Age, began. The impact of the new arrivals has been enormous, with the native DNA of hunter-fisher-gatherers almost completely disappearing.
The latest research on the Neolithic in Scotland was recently shared by Dr Alison Sheridan, a longtime former senior curator of ancient prehistory at National Museums Scotland, in the latest series of lectures commemorating antiquarian Alexander Henry Rhind for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.
Dr Sheridan said it was now believed, following DNA research, that the period began with the arrival of immigrant farmers from the Morbihan region in Brittany, who sailed via the Atlantic to the west of Scotland.
Others came from the Nord-Pas de Calais region, settling in the south and east of Scotland.
They took with them calves, lambs and piglets in light containers covered with skin with seeds of wheat, barley, oats and flax also on board.
She said: “We can now say with some confidence that immigrants arrived from different parts of the near continent around 4000 BC and introduced a new completely continental way of life based on agro-pastoral agriculture, as well as on cultural traditions, practices and manners. to make sense of the world that went with it.
“The early farmers had a major impact on the native indigenous population whose genetic signature has all but disappeared. “
Over time, the indigenous population stopped seeking food and became more sedentary by adopting the agricultural way of life, producing food by raising animals and growing crops.
Some of the earliest evidence of the new settlers can be found in a Breton-style burial cairn at Achnacreebeag near Oban. Inside, pottery of a style used in Brittany between 4,300 and 3,900 BC.
Dr Sheridan said: “The development of agriculture in the Near East around 10,000 BC. to give meaning to the world and to new social structures, and to announce the end of the indigenous hunter-fisher-gatherer way of life.
Life for the farmers was far from idyllic, with evidence of violence including a flint arrowhead found in the spine of a person in Caithness, and signs that an Orkney child had been punched in the face by an ax. Many skulls show hits from blunt objects.
She described the Neolithic as the “most fascinating period” of Scotland’s past, attracting interest – and economic benefit – from around the world.
Dr Sheridan said: “The Neolithic is not considered a dusty or boring time in Scotland’s past. It holds a vibrant place in people’s consciousness and, as we see with the worldwide fascination with Brodgar’s Ness in the Orkney Islands, Scottish Neolithic archeology makes a significant and measurable contribution to the Scottish economy.