Question: What mysterious feat of engineering did ancient Scottish people accomplish, pre-dating both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza?
Answer: They made their own islands
Along the lochs, rivers, and sea inlets of Scotland, small mounds of rock that look like tiny islands are found. Known as crannogs, these miniature islands are shrouded in mystery. Why? Because they are not naturally occurring islands but were built by ancient people 5,500 years ago. The foundations of these mysterious piles of rock survive today, however, their purpose still remains unknown.
During pre-historic times, the people of the British Isles were expert builders, known for creating ancient forts, monuments, and ritual sites, but all along the coastline of Scotland and Ireland, they built these islands in an equally astonishing feat of engineering.
When archeologists first discovered the crannogs, they estimated that they were built during the Iron Age, around the year 800 BCE. But in 2012, a diver and resident of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides explored along one of the remaining islands and discovered a scattered collection of well-preserved early-middle Neolithic pots. The artifacts were submerged in one piece and protected for thousands of years in the placid waters and deep sediment of the loch.
After further research investigated the crannogs, more than 200 ceramic vessels were discovered which has led researchers to believe the islands were actually built thousands of years earlier than initially thought. With the newly-found pottery, archeologists now place the crannogs at around the years 3640 to 3360 BCE which pre-dates the creation of Stonehenge and the Great Pyramids of Giza.
Building the crannogs would have required extensive labor, so they must have been used for something very important. It would have required moving and piling stones weighting up to 550 pounds each into mounds which range in size from 30 to 100 feet in diameter. Research suggests some crannogs contained round timber houses built on stilts driven into the loch bed, while others could have been used for celebratory feasts, mortuary rituals, or other social rituals. Perhaps they were used as a spiritual place separated from everyday life and surrounded by water.
Research is still ongoing for these fascinating enclaves, and what they were really used for still remains a mystery. Either way, if you spot a small patch of trees or rocks rising from the surface of the water, know that many years ago, the island was once heaved by an ancient people and most likely used for something special.
10 Fascinating Facts about Pre-Historic Scotland:
- When we think of Scotland we might think of rolling green hills, castles, and the Loch Ness Monster, but in fact, the land is filled with ancient and complex history. People have lived in Scotland for over 12,000 years.
- One of the earliest settlements discovered Scotland is at Cramond, near what is Edinburgh today, which is dated to around 8500 BCE. Stone tools and pits have been found around this site which suggests some of the first hunter-gatherers in Scotland lived here.
- During pre-historic times, the people built some of the most astounding stone monuments and tombs. For example, the monument known as Maeshowe is a stone chambered tomb which is aligned perfectly for the sun to fill the main chamber on the winter solstice.
- The Iron Age in Scotland took place around 700 BCE and the population adopted new technologies including the introduction of Celtic knotwork and decoration. In this period, they decorated metal and wore colorful clothing and jewelry. The Romans called this tribe the Caledoni and named their land Caledonia.
- Ancient Scottish people were made up of separate groups, rather than one common ancestral or genetic heritage. The country was made up of a patchwork of various tribes, who would eventually align during campaigns to fight against Roman imperialism.
- One tribe that inhabited Scotland during the Iron Age was the Picts, or the “painted people”. They were named the Picts by the Romans due to their painted bodies and carved stones—some of which remain today.
- In the year 43, the Romans successfully invaded Britain, and the native tribes of the north in Caledonia resisted many invasion attempts. The Romans would eventually build massive walls to keep the Caledoni out of the Roman-ruled Britain.
- All of the Scottish tribes spoke different languages until the sixth century when Latin became the common language due to the spread of Christianity.
- During the 1200s and 1300s, the Scottish clan system ruled the Highlands. They were ruled over by a clan chief and made up of family members and those with loyalty to the chief. The clans were distinguished to others by the clothes they wore—including what is now known as Scottish tartan plaid.
- In 1296, Edward I invaded Scotland and massacred the townspeople of Berwick. He stripped the Scottish King of his power, but in response, the Scottish knight William Wallace coordinated an army of Scots and inflicted a defeat over the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Learn more about the ancient history of Scotland and perhaps you’ll see a mysterious crannog when you join us for our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure.