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History of Loch Kinnord
Chapter III. Pre-Historic Period


We have now to deal with the appearance of man upon the scene, though when or whence he came we know not. A few hundred, or even a thousand, years more or less is of no consequence in fixing a date so remote.

The first human inhabitants of this part of Aberdeenshire probably came from the south, and belonged to some tribe of the great Celtic family. For many years they were in a very savage condition, and had enough to do to maintain their ground against the attacks of the wild beasts of the forest without making war on each other. They had no knowledge of any art save hunting and fishing; and they have left behind them no record of their manner of life, except a few rude stone cups, and chips of hard rock which served their simple wants and supplied to them the place of dishes and knives. These are now rarely met with in the district around Kinnord; and it is therefore probable that the people who used them did not for a great length of time hold undisputed possession of the country.

Another tribe, somewhat more civilized, but belonging to the same Celtic stock, crossed the Grampians and settled on Deeside, making slaves of the former inhabitants, or driving them back into the remoter glens. After some ages these were in like manner dispossessed by some other tribe, hailing also from the south. It was the old story over again, as recorded in Deuteronomy ii, "As he did to the children of Esau which dwelt in Seir, when He destroyed the Horims from before them; and they succeeded them and dwelt in their stead even unto this day; and the Avims which dwelt in Hazerim even unto Azzah, the Caph-torims, which came forth out of Caphtor, destroyed them and dwelt in their stead."

Each victorious tribe was, however, more civilized than its predecessor j and thus a knowledge of one art after another found its way into the district Each succeeding tribe was also more powerful in numbers than the one it had dispossessed, and required wider lands to support it These circumstances gave rise to wars between neighbouring tribes, which were at first carried on with the simplest weapons that nature supplied, namely, clubs and stones. The conflicts they thus engaged in were not an unmixed evil; for the love of mastery, which is one of the strongest passions in the savage mind, supplied a continual and strong stimulus to the contending tribes to invent some more effective engine of destruction than that possessed by their enemies. This set their intellects a working, and tended greatly to promote the progress of art in other and more peaceful departments. Battle stones—round stones attached to the wrist by means of long thongs of skin, which could be thrown at the head of an enemy and then jerked back by the string—are among the earliest manufactured weapons found in the district. There have not many of them been discovered just about Kinnord, because, as I suppose, there was no lack of loose stones on the Moor of Dinnet that would have done quite as well, if not better! To the invention of battle stones succeeded that of slings; to the slings stone darts; and to the stone darts, bows and arrows. Relics of all these are found, though rarely, in the soils and morasses around Kinnord, and testify to the sanguinary struggle for possession then going on.

Meantime much improvement had taken place in the arts of peace. The old rude stone cup had been superseded by an ornamental article furnished with a handle; and the rough chip that did duty for a knife was going out of fashion, and regularly-shaped flints were coming into use instead; while for heavier work, stone axes and hammers were being fabricated. About this time also the purchase power of the lever was discovered; and not long after an ingenious practical application of the principle was made, by attaching levers or handles to the hammers and axes which they had formerly held in their hand. This was an immense stride onwards in the progress of art, even though at first the handle was attached to the head by means of thongs of skin. The art of boring circular holes, not only in timber but in stone also, followed soon after, and then the handle was inserted into a hole or socket in the head itself Several such implements have been found, if not in the immediate neighbourhood of Kinnord, at least within the district of Cromar.

But of all improvements in the arts that were effected at this early stage, none was so important as that of polishing stone. The man who discovered this was in his day and generation almost as great a benefactor of his species as he who invented the steam engine. From the period when men learned to polish their stone tools may be dated the rise of all handicraft. An edge could thus be obtained on stone which for keenness was not surpassed for long after the introduction of metal implements. This improvement, however, does not seem to have been taken much advantage of so far north as Kinnord, till shortly before the bronze age; for very few specimens of polished stone belonging to this early age are now found in the district.

Such being their tools, let us now see what they were able to accomplish with them: They felled the trees of the forest, which they converted into canoes, implements of husbandry, and other tools, with which they rolled together great stones for walls of defence. With the means at their command, they built great circular houses above ground, and strange pear-shaped ones under. In short, they contrived to make themselves almost comfortable and secure; and when we consider what they achieved, it cannot be said that they were indolent, and did not make the most of their means.

To these simple stone tools were afterwards added bronze ones; and, before the stage of civilization to which I am referring had come to a close, some little aid was also obtained from iron, though it was doubtless a very rare commodity at that time.

There is reason to believe that the colony at Kinnord, leading such an existence as I have described, was one of the earliest and most populous north of the Grampians. The locality had, indeed, unusual attractions, possessing, as it did, the natural elements of security against enemies from without, and of food supply for the dwellers within. Naturally the earliest settlers would select for their residence a locality where the necessaries of life could be obtained in the greatest abundance, and with the least toil; and of these wood and water must have been the most essential. Both were here to be found in unusual store. Timber for the construction of their dwellings, and for fuel to warm them was at hand; while the lakes and the forest would afford an unfailing supply of food. Irrespective, therefore, of the remains of antiquity which have been found in the district, there was a presumption in the very character of its situation that it must early have attracted attention as a place peculiarly favourable for a settlement

In these very olden times the idea of a town, as known to us, had not been conceived. According to their notion a town embraced a little district, selected in the first instance for its natural facilities of defence, and afterwards fortified by art so as to afford protection, not only to the inhabitants, but to all their flocks and herds. The Romans were the first to describe these ancient British towns; and from their accounts we gather that they were generally situated in woods in localities where lakes and marshes were abundant, and formed natural defences against invasion. In these lakes the natives built artificial islands, and palisaded those that nature had built, in order to render them safe retreats in case of defeat from an invading foe.

The lake-dwellers spent most of their time on the water—an element with which they had acquired great familiarity. Their aquatic feats much surprised the Romans, who at first took them for a sort of amphibious race of the human family, and believed they scarcely could be drowned.

But besides the water and marsh defences, they were also very fond of building hill forts, where the nature of the country afforded them facilities for so doing. The most prominent heights were selected for fortifications, and around these clustered the rude huts of the people ; just as in more recent times every castle was surrounded by a hamlet to which it afforded protection against assaults from foreign enemies. A collection of these hill-forts and lake retreats, occupied by the same people, and capable from their situations of affording help to each other, though scattered over a pretty wide extent of country, was in these early times esteemed a town.

Now the remains which still survive are sufficient to show that the country all around Kinnord was the headquarters of some great tribe of pre-historic settlers. The district thus formed into a town embraced the whole valley of the Burn of Dinnet, with probably a portion of that of the Burn of Tarland; but the principal strength, or chief citadel was in and around Loch Kinnord. The town was not known by the name Kinnord; if the people used that word at their first settlement, they applied it to only a small portion of their fortified district—a portion which afterwards became important as it rose by degrees to be the principal fortress. The name which the inhabitants themselves bestowed on the city was Davan, or the land or town of the two lakes, a name which it must be allowed was, and even yet is, very descriptive of the situation; for these two lakes, now called Davan and Kinnord, though greatly modified in shape and extent from what they then were, still form the principal feature of the scenery. From this circumstance then they called their town Davan, or the Town of the Two Lakes. The tribe, whose principal city this was, occupied an extensive territory, mostly at first along the banks of the Dee. They called themselves Deailich, or as we should say Deeside men.

Possessing such an advantageous situation for their capital, they in time succeeded in bringing under subjection their less favoured neighbours, till at length their territories extended over the whole valleys of the Dee and Don, and, as some think, along the sea coast from the mouths of these rivers almost to where Peterhead now stands.

It may be thought that the town of Davan, as we shall now call it, did not occupy a very central position for being the chief town of such a people; but it must be recollected that they did not then select sites for their cities in the most central localities, but at first for purposes of defence, and long after for those of commerce. Even so late, comparatively, as when chief towns were chosen for counties, little regard was paid to central situation, as may be seen from the selection of Aberdeen, Banff, and many others of the county towns of Scotland. In the much earlier times to which we are referring, the natural defences of mountain and flood were of more consequence.


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