Migration has defined the history of the north of Scotland. Until around 8000 BC people could walk across to Britain from Europe; the English Channel did not exist. The Highland's first inhabitants, the hunter-gatherers, walked here across that land bridge from mainland Europe.
The Neolithic farmers
The first farmers settled in the Highlands around 3500 - 4000 BC. This heralded the beginning of the Stone Age or Neolithic period. Farming brought settlements and paved the way for the development of more advanced civilisation between 3000 and 700 BC. These included the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age peoples.
The Iron Age
With improvements in metalworking between 700 BC and 400 AD, the Iron Age peoples emerged. It is during this period that our Celtic forebears arrived in Britain, bringing with them the Celtic languages of Welsh, Cornish and Gaelic. Gaelic, however, did not arrive into Scotland until the 5th century. The people of Scotland at this time were known by the Romans as the Picts. But whether the Picts were the same people as the Celts remains a mystery.
The 'Scotti' or Scots
In the fifth century AD, the Gaels or 'Scotti' settled on Scotland's southwestern seaboard having come across from Ireland. They were among the first to bring Christianity to Scotland and included missionaries such as Saint Columba (there is evidence that Christianity had already travelled from Scotland to Ireland through Saint Patrick). Not only did the 'Scotti' bring the Gaelic language, the dark-haired swarthy Celtic appearance is still very much a feature seen in many clansfolk.
The Norse influence
Around 790 AD the Norse, or Vikings, crossed the North Sea from Norway and invaded the north-west coast of Scotland. The Norse eventually led the region's ruling elite. Their Norse-Gaelic descendants became the Lords of the Isles, a major power until the 15th century. The Macleods, the Macbeaths and the Mackenzies are all clans that show strong Nordic characteristics. The people of the Northern Isles retain their Nordic accent, but many of the old Norse words are now lost.
The Norse-Gaelic influence on Scotland was challenged from the 12th century on by the Normans. The Normans introduced feudalism to the Highlands. Some Norman families evolved into clans, e.g. the Frasers, Chisholms and Douglases.
If a book listed in the bibliography below is available from the Highland Libraries it will be indicated by a book icon -
Saints and Sea-Kings: The First Kingdom of the Scots
Historic Scotland/Canongate, 1999
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