Pre History to the Dark Ages
The Borders are situated in the Southern Uplands of Scotland and are mostly made up of the river system of the Tweed and its tributaries, which flow into the North Sea at Berwick upon Tweed, and the Liddle Water, which runs south and west into the Solway and the Irish Sea. The only lowland areas is the Merse, the undulating plain of the lower Tweed which separates the Lammermuir Hills on the north from the Cheviot Hills to the south. Westwards, these uplands merge with the central massif of southern Scotland, reaching an altitude of 840m on Broad Law.
This shape is the result of events which took place over hundreds of millions of years. In contrast, the history of human occupation of the Borders may be no more than half a million years but it is only during the 12,000 that any tangible remains have been left.
Hunters and Farmers
Our knowledge of events and processes in the history of human settlement of the Borders is derived almost entirely from archaeological study of sites and finds, for there are no written records before the early centuries AD. The period before that is “prehistoric”.
The animals and plants which lived in the extensive forests which grew up over the British peninsula, eventually British Isles, provided food and raw materials for hunter-gatherers during the mesolithic period, which lasted from at least 10,000 to about 6,000 years ago and represents the final stage in Britain of a way of life which had supported humankind since its development. Sites in the Hebrides and Ireland show that these people had boats and may have been no more deterred from sea journeys than the hunting-gathering Esquimaux of Canada in recent years.
After Britain became an island, communication with the continent continued, and by this means cereal cultivation and sheep farming were introduced around 6,000 (about 240 generations) years ago. Agriculture supported a gradual rise in population, and this was accompanied by improvements in technology. Britain and the Borders were receptive to ideas and, probably, people from outside, and after about 2,500BC metalworking, first in alloys of copper (especially bronze), and after 500BC, iron were features of a society which grew in extent and complexity as time passed.
By the 1st century AD (about 80 generations ago) the landscape and people were greatly changed from the time of the earliest farmers. There was still much woodland, but instead of the modest encroachment of early farmers, large areas had been cleared of trees for arable cultivation, even at high altitude. Settlements were numerous and a well-established network of trackways provided access through the remaining woodland and along and between the river valleys. The inhabitants enjoyed a better standard of living and by this time were organized into small kingdoms. Into this landscape came the first people to leave their names in the history books.