Mesolithic lithic scatter site in sand dunes at Inver Naver © Caroline Wickham-Jones
One of the defining archaeological signatures of Palaeolithic and Mesolithic activity is the presence of characteristic lithic artefacts which are often found in some quantity depending on the nature of the site. Stone artefacts are the most durable component of the prehistoric toolkit from these early periods and the transformation of the original raw material into usable tools can generate a significant amount of debris, several hundred in less than an hours knapping. Many of the Mesolithic Scottish scatter sites, like Bolsay Farm, Islay (Mithen 2000) and Rink Farm on the river Tweed (Mulholland 1970) constitute large and often spatially extensive assemblages comprising many hundreds of thousands of individual pieces. These persistent places in the landscape were also often the foci of occupation and stoneworking activity in later periods and, consequently, it can be difficult to differentiate elements of these assemblages and different events at these sites which have often subsequently been subject to intensive agricultural activity. Nevertheless, scatter sites of all kinds are an especially important resource for the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods (cf. Barton 2006; Veil 2006).
Of considerable interest are more discrete smaller scatter sites where more temporally defined activities can be discerned. Such sites have been found through the monitoring of upland forestry ploughed landscapes in South Lanarkshire at sites such as Daer Valley Site 84 (Ward 2005; Wright in prep.). These sites offer a more intimate view on hunter-gatherer behaviour and are often associated with firespots and other features. The identification and excavation of these types of sites are a priority in order to enhance the understanding of human action and changes in lithic technology through time, for they offer tighter chronological controls than are often possible at the larger more extensive lithic scatters.
Archaeological investigation at scatter sites has tended to focus on the excavation of the area of greatest density in order to recover representative samples of the lithic artefacts for analysis. Yet, lithic scatter sites often comprise other structural remains and features (Wickham-Jones 2004), although this will depend on the extent of plough damage. Here the application of geophysical techniques and wider investigation in the vicinity of the scatter itself can enhance the recovery of associated features. The Historic Scotland funded Scottish Lithic Scatters Project was an attempt to collate information on all lithic scatters in Scotland (Barrowman and Stuart 1998; Barrowman 2003; Stuart 2003) and much work still remains to be undertaken to fully understand the character and value of all types of lithic scatters as a resource. Scatter sites are vulnerable to a number of threats primarily through development and landuse practices but also from archaeological practices such as the over-zealous and selective collection of artefacts which can destroy the spatial integrity of the deposits and ultimate remove the site itself before it has been properly investigated.