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Early Settlement

We need to go back much, much earlier to understand the first settlement of Bhaltos; people have lived in the Outer Hebrides for at least 9,000 years, since shortly after the end of the last Ice Age. At that time, the landscape looked very different.

The sea level was much lower than it is now, perhaps as much as 9 metres below its present level, and many of the small, off-shore islands in Loch Roag would have been joined to the mainland. There would have been much more land to the west, which is now submerged, and the sandy beaches we see now would have been kilometres further west.

 

Hazel BushMixed woodland covered the area, and would have been managed by the groups of hunter-gatherers who moved through. From pollen grains preserved in peat samples, we can tell that these early people cleared areas of woodland by burning, probably to create grazing for the red deer that they hunted. We also know from other areas of the Hebrides that hazel nuts were one of their most important food sources, and that they regularly visited stands of hazels to harvest them in the autumn. If you go to the southern end of Traigh na Berie, and look at the slopes of the ridge that rises above the machair, you'll find that it is still covered with stunted hazel bushes, that have survived the thousands of years of grazing (see the map).

When Hebrideans started to settle down and farm (this early farming stone age is called the Neolithic Period, c. 4,500-2,000 BC), they built small stone houses, surrounded by fields, in areas that were sheltered and easy to cultivate. So far, none of these settlements have been found on the peninsula, probably because they were in the areas that are now under water. These early farmers did not know how to work with metal, and all their tools were made from stone. Often this would have been the local white quartz, which can be found outcropping in many places, as flint is very rare in the islands. The quartz forms veins in the metamorphic rock, Lewisian gneiss, which is the bedrock under the glacial clay of the area. Neolithic stone tools have been found eroding out of some of the beaches, for example at Clibhe. These Stone Age farmers were the people who built the great standing stone monuments at sites like Calanais, and communal burial cairns. Few burial cairns survive in Lewis, but Barpa Langais in North Uist and Maes Howe in Orkney are good examples of what they would have looked like.