Quirks & Quarks

Stone-age humans imported deer to remote Scottish islands

Red deer were moved from continental Europe to the Outer Hebrides by humans 5500 years ago

Wild animals were transported across land and sea to create a new resource

Red deer in Scotland (Massimo Catarinella, cc-by-sa-3.0)
About 5,500 years ago, Stone Age humans somehow moved wild Red deer from mainland Europe to colonize the remote Orkney islands and Outer Hebrides, north of Scotland. Dr. Jacqui Mulville, a Reader in Bioarchaeology at Cardiff University in Wales, and her colleagues, were interested in finding how the deer got to these islands, which are too far from Scotland for natural migration to be likely.

They analyzed DNA from deer bone from archaeological sites and discovered that the early deer on the islands were not related to any local groups - and seem likely to have come from continental Europe. This suggests that prehistoric humans transported the deer across land and sea to colonize the islands.

Once released and established, the deer would have been harvested for food, skin and especially antler and bone, which were valuable materials for making tools.

Related Links

- Paper in Proceedings B:
- Cardiff University release
BBC News story
The Guardian story