Long before the days of two Co-Operatives, drinking up the woods (although, this could be an age-long island tradition) and doing laps of the town in a car on a Friday night, Bute was loved for its natural qualities such as its fertile land, shielded waters and close proximity to mainland Scotland; qualities that proved popular with both settlers and – of course – invaders. With an island whose history of settlers stretches as far back as 10,000 years ago, we’re fortunate to have the evidence of how exactly the earliest settlers on Bute lived.
The earliest settlers of Bute lived approximately between 10,000 and 5,000 years ago or what is also referred to as the Middle Stone Age. Ironically, these ‘settlers’ never really settled as their lifestyle required them to move from place to place for survival.
According to Bute: An Island History by Ian Maclagan and Anne Speirs, evidence suggests that the Mesolithic settlers would set up temporary camps in which they would return to seasonally in order to hunt and fish. However, no trace of their homes on the island – which would have consisted of animal skins and wood- has ever been discovered; their only remnants left in the form of middens and tools and the former of which was discovered at the North end of the island at Glecknabae, where deposited Oyster Shells were found.
The best settlement site from this age was found at Little Kilchattan Farm and provided all that one would require for a quality settlement of this time: beside a stream and close to the sea, where fishing was accessible. Furthermore, unlike today, Bute was far more abundant in natural, nutritional food sources such as deer and wild boar (which you couldn’t purchase out of McQueen’s or McIntyre’s Butchers).
However, this wandering way of life began to fizzle out as Bute entered its next period of history – a time where people truly ‘settled’ and when farming culture was brought to life about 5,000 years ago.
So far, the only glance into Neolithic life on Bute comes from a domestic site discovered in the early 1900s at Townhead, Rothesay , where Flexible Technology and the Joint Campus is currently located and this is the first evidence of the living of the Neolithic people rather than the dead. Pottery, tools and charred remains of food were amongst the many things discovered at this site that provided insight into their way of life.
The Neolithic people were innovators and pioneers of their time as pottery and stone axes became a fresh and advanced technology then. Not only this, but these people had determined how to acquire food via planting and harvesting grain along with domesticating cattle and sheep, when agriculture was brought to Bute from the Mediterranean – It’s a shame they never brought the weather.
People finally began to settle permanently on Bute as a routine of cultivation and sowing required them to and so communities began to form. These were the true founding mother and fathers of Bute’s Young Farmers.
Like previously mentioned, the Neolithic people were notorious for leaving evidence of their dead which were mainly found in the form of tombs and burial chambers – primarily in the North end of the island – such as Glenvoidean. The ‘Chambered Cairn’ here was excavated by Dorothy Marshall in the 1960s and within the burial site chambers, bowls with distinct patterns and a flint knife was found – and incredibly well preserved too.
It’s also important to note that flint was used in the Mesolithic period too but is not natural to Bute, thus indicating that it was brought from elsewhere to these sites.
This simple, seemingly peaceful way of life was short-lived before Bute’s primary focus became security, weaponry and defence in the following ages. With the introduction of metal to Scotland in the Bronze Age and the creation of forts and warfare in the Iron Age – Bute would never be the same again.
*If you’re interested in further reading of other settlements such as the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Early Christians, you can visit the Bute Museum website here: https://www.butemuseum.org.uk/
And I also recommend Bute: An Island History by Ian Maclagan and Anne Speirs which you can purchase via Amazon : https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bute-Island-History-Ian-Maclagan/dp/090581214X