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'Swine team' lead archaeologists to Ice Age find

Archaeologists from the University of Reading have been sharing the tale of how a herd of pigs led to them discovering the oldest evidence of human activity in Scotland.

Dr Karen Wicks from the University of Reading with the 'Swine Team' Credit: University of Reading

The team were alerted to Islay in the Inner Hebrides after a herd of pigs dug up uprooted mesolithic items while foraging along the coastline. The scientists discovered a set of Ice Age stone tools used for hunting - including sharp points used for hunting big game and scrapers for cleaning skins. The items date back 12,000 years.

Some of the tools found by the archaeologists

"The Mesolithic finds were a wonderful discovery - but what was underneath took our breath away. The Ice Age tools provide the first unequivocal presence of people in Scotland about 3000 years earlier than previously indicated. This moves the story of Islay into a new historical era, from the Mesolithic into the Palaeolithic.

"Western Scotland was the northwest frontier of the Ice Age world, a continuous landmass stretching across Europe to Asia. It was originally thought that people first arrived in Scotland after the end of the ice age, around 10,500 years ago. However we now know that a group of ice age hunter-gatherers visited Islay much earlier, discarding broken stone tools at what we think was maybe a camp site, on the island's east coast...

"The initial discovery was more swine team than Time Team. Archaeology relies on expert planning and careful analysis - but a bit of luck is also very welcome."

– Dr Karen Wicks, University of Reading's Department of Archaeology