By Alistair Heather
Five thousand year syne the human warld birlt about a different axis. Doun in Egypt the Pharos war biggin their muckle pyramidal kists, drawin their pouer fae the fertile launds abuin the Nile. The great Sphinx wis appearin out fae ashlars o sandstane the size o houses. Naebody speirt efter wha buir the gree in terms o humanity in thae days; it wis clear. The Egyptians, ane o the great cívilisations, haed taen their place as the heid o the species on earth. They kent wha the Gods war, whit their leid wis, an generally kent wha wis wha an whit wis whit brawly. The rest o us sprauchelt, heid doun, throu the dub an mire, up tae wir oxsters in ignorance.
Ye can think o Egypt as the epicentre o human development o the day, an aa ither human actívity bein ripples out fae thon source. The tottie wee wave o humanity that raxed ower the continent tae exhaust itsel on Scotland’s strands wis minor indeed. Than mair nor iver we war the pure ends o the earth.
It wisnae lang syne afore that Scotland haed been scaured by three miles o hyper-cranreuch in the Ice Age. Maist o Europe haed been in lockdoun as fowk tyned the means tae live in the freezin climate o the day. As the ice meltit an life cam back tae the laund, an as the fowk o Europe keekit out o their cave shelters in the Pyrenees, it wis anely the bampots, zoomers an gowks that fund theirsels stravaigin sae far north as our frozen shores.
The ticht glens o the south Scotland borderlands war guid for the “drive an sett” huntin tactics o wir ancestors. A wheen o hunters wad yowl and screich loudly an breenge doun the glen, garin aa the herds o beasts flee flichtit afore thaim. At the fit o the glen the chiels wi the spears wad hunker doun in cover an wait, an they’d pick aff the animals as they scuddit by.
These fowk haed a roch time o it. The population o Scotland wis tiny. Nae mair nor a puckle o lairge faimily groups gangin about gaitherin berries an huntin boar. The laund in thae days wisnae exactly conducive tae a lang an couthie life. The diet wis healthy eneuch, but it pit a stap tae ony population growth, for ae guid reason. The berries, nuts an meat wis ower muckle for a bairn tae eat. Therefore, bairns haed tae feed on their mither’s milk till the age o fower. Lassies arenae sae likely tae hae anither bairn aucht thaim gin they’re feedin fae the breist. The life expectancy o a lassie in thae days seems tae hae been nae mair nor twinty-fower year or thereabouts. Sae gin they maun hae spent fower year raisin ilka bairn, they cannae hae mair nor three bairns afore they dee theirsels. Add tae that a heich rate o premature bairn deith an ye ken that e’en sae muckle as uphaudin the population at its low level wis a sair fecht.
Life went on in siclike a fashion for ower a thousand year an mair. Humanity tried tae impose itsel ontae the Scots landscape but aye fund itsel deid aamaist afore it wis alive, like a body ettlin tae fill a bath wi the plug out. Survival wis aa that fowk could aspire tae, leave alane developin airt or cívilisation.
As the Egyptians slaikit their drouthy thrapples wi reid wine an furnished their houses wi gowd, the tribes ablo the northren lift in Scotland war thirlt tae a tuim-wamed, short existence.
The revolution that gied thae few faimlies the chance tae growe an pit doun real roots in their hame cam fae the Fertile Crescent. The launds kent the day as Syria, Jordan, Egypt an the rest war pairt o a braid agricultural cívilisation whaur wild gresses war cultivatit an stertit tae gie furth the calorific cereals. That ae development chynged aathing, especially for launds outwith the Fertile Crescent, especially for Scotland.
Ideas o cereal hairsts spread ower Europe. Fowk wha haed been thirlt tae an aye-flittin life o hunter-gaitherin suddenly fund that they could settle an area. Thae barleys could be grund doun tae a paste an gied tae bairns as porage. Mithers could stap giein thaim breistmilk at the age o twa, giein thaim the chance tae get back out gaitherin, or tae hae mair bairns.
It wis this revolution that gied the puir shiverin craiturs wha bade here the chance tae upbig their populations, big wee widdin houses an stert tae ferm efter a fashion. Huntin wis certainly a guid source o calorific meat, but it wis cereals that gied thaim the foundation o society.
Than it aa explodit. Fae this base, fermin grew mair complex, cívilisation stertit tae appear. Excess wis produced. Fowk haed free time for the first time in Scottish history. They uised the time tae humph muckle stanes thegither intae stane circles. They also ettled at unnerstaunnin the birlin o the heivenly bodies abuin their heids. It gied fowk a chance tae experiment wi airt an for heirarchies tae emerge.
Suin Scotland wis hame tae complex clan sýstems, whiles fechtin, whiles wirkin thegither. Sodgers an wee kings emerged, aa on the foundation o cereal. The early stane-age fowk developit intae the North-Sea traders o the Pictish kíngdom, wha skelpit the Roman airmies, sendin thaim south tae think again. They did the same for the English in the early days, strikin out fae their ain fertile crescent atween Caithness, throu Aiberdeen an doun tae Embra. They jyned up wi the Scots o the wast an thegither they made the kíngdom o Scotland as we ken it.
Whan ye glower out ower a bare cairngorm glen, or the icy plashin watter o some lawland burn an ye speir at hou fowk could bide here in thae lang syne days, mind aye that it wis humble porage that made it possible.
Alistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an wirks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.
|lang syne||long ago|
|to ettle||to attempt|